It all began the night the moonmen landed. I was lying on my rack, considering the night’s entertainment options. Crabby could “borrow” the sergeant major’s car again. We could all drop acid, drive up to Disneyland and harass the boots on their first liberty from Camp Pendleton. We could pull up alongside a cadence-calling detail of uniformed gyrenes, lean out the windows and taunt them with such epithets as “Baby killers!” “Murderers!” until they charged after the car down Anaheim Boulevard screaming: “Faggots!” “Hippies!” That was a goof, sure. But it was old hat.
We could smoke-bomb the mess hall again. Or we could revive last month’s officer-impersonation craze. Here’s a playback from that scam:
“MP shack, Pfc. Jones speaking, sir.”
“Pfc. Jones,” I said from a pay phone on base, “this is Captain Hawkes, the 214 duty officer. Send every available man and truck over to Barracks 214. We got a damn race riot on our hands out here. And I mean on the double, private.”
“Sir, yes sir!”
Three minutes later, the MPs pulled into Barracks 214’s parking lot with their sirens shrieking, and while the silly turds were storming the building, Buster Block flattened the tires of their paddy wagons with an ice pick.
Kube Kommander, how goes it?” Buster himself was standing before me in his summer service “A” khakis, a Black Panther beret and a Marx brothers sweatshirt. A 19-year-old professional juvenile delinquent from birth, Buster’s goal was to take over the U.S. Marine Corps by his next birthday and the rest of the world soon after.
“How did a clown like you wind up in the Crotch, Buster?”
“Sure. The revolution’s got to start somewhere, Kube Kommander. And who, I ask you, is better prepared to lead it than a U.S. Marine?” “Meaning you, of course.” “Of course! But you’ll be my second in command. I have big plans for you, Kube Kommander.” “Buster, when I joined up, I thought I’d be storming gook beachheads like in the movies, saving the world from the Red Menace. I wanted to see some action.” “Come the revolution, you’ll see plenty of action. And look at it this way, you have a starring role in the greatest war movie of all time—’Black Sheep on Dope.'”
Starring role indeed. Most of my three-year hitch had thus far been spent at El Toro, the Marine Corps Air Station, in Santa Ana, California. There, as an integral part of Marine Fighter Squadron 214’s Buildings and Grounds crew, I helped keep America safe for democracy by keeping the outfit’s barracks shipshape and policing the surrounding grounds of butts and litter. The Black Sheep Squadron of World War II infamy, 214, led by Pappy Boyington and his zany band of boozing brawlers, whose exploits would one day be popularized on the boob tube series “Baa-Baa Black Sheep.”
And we, the 214 Buildings and Grounds crew, were Pappy’s children, circa 1969. Me, Buster Block, Crabby Bornman, a former Chicago hood, and a hillbilly from some backwater swamp south of the Mason-Dixon line who joined the Corps for the free shoes—the first pair he’d ever worn—and the close to $80-a-month base pay, which he reckoned made him “’bout as close t’being a damn zillionaire as I’ll ever get.”
Buster, the hillbilly and I were awaiting discharge: my three-year hitch was about up; the hillbilly was getting out on a medical—he’d been transferred into the Black Sheep from a naval hospital in Japan, where the docs recapped his gourd with a plastic plate, replacing the chunk of skull zapped out by the slopes. Buster was being processed out on a section eight, and Crabby had actually been booted out of the Corps three months before, but he hung around the base, chowing down at the mess hall, peddling drugs and pimping off a stable of women marines on Sunset Strip.
When Buster Block was busted in rank for ”conduct unbecoming a marine,” which translated in civilian lingo to “wearing unshined shoes.” I, being the next senior man in rank, assumed command of the “Cube.” Crabby, the hillbilly, Buster and I were quartered in this Cube (actually, it was more of a walk-in closet), partitioned from other Cubes by gray metal wall lockers. The Cube was a crash pad, a haven for wandering hippies, flippies, kooks and weirdos, so had Buster Block proclaimed in a notice posted in the Laguna Beach Mystic Arts World Book Shop. Runaway teenyboppers were fed, fostered and fucked in the Cube’s confines. With lights out at nine came strobe rays and wine. Hendrix wailed and brain cells sailed. And I was The Man.
Crabby and Buster had presented to me a T-shirt with KUBE KOMMANDER stenciled across the chest in Magic Marker. Over the midsection was a decaled eagle, globe and anchor insignia of the United States Marine Corps. North and South America had been replaced on the globe by a peace symbol. The back sported a profile of Private Black-jack, the outfit’s sepia sheep mascot whose care and providing for came under the auspices of the Buildings and Grounds crew.
Crabby Bornman had a battalion of crabs permanently encamped in his pubic hair. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the battalion had several scout platoons on constant recon for new bivouac sites.
When Sgt. Maj. William Fain Watson, Jr., was assigned to the Black Sheep, he announced at morning formation:
“If I leave the keys in my car, it’s for a reason. Call it a test, call it what you will. But gentlemen, I trust my men, always have. I’ve been a sergeant major almost ten years now, and no marine in my command has ever betrayed my faith. And the day one of my men violates that trust will be the day I retire from the Marine Corps.”
Within the hour Crabby had heisted the car and Watson’s ceremonial noncommissioned officer’s sword which happened to be in the trunk. Watson found the sword later that evening, stuck through his desk. After making up a duplicate set of keys, Crabby returned the car, too, with a note of thanks and a squad of his finest crabs on the front seat.
Crabby Bornman was the honcho of the base drug-dealership. Armed with a 9mm Luger, he climbed the ladder of free enterprise, mauling competitors, single-handedly holding up hamburger joints, gas stations and Taco Bells until he had looted enough dough to make his first big dope score in Tijuana, where he also picked up his first cadre of crabs.
Buster Block, by pointing out its lucrative potential, had no trouble interesting Crabby in his plan to spearhead the counterculture revolution from the palatial Glendale estate of his father, Buster Block, Sr., a millionaire used-car flimflam man.
“Kube Kommander, I got it all figured out. We can’t miss.”
“You’re crazy, Buster, it’ll never work.” “The place is impregnable. We’ll slaughter ’em.” “You mean they’ll slaughter us.” “The place is a fortress. I’ll work the machine gun from the balcony. You and Hives can feed the ammo belts.” “Who’s Hives?” “The family butler.” “Buster, you’re insane.”
“When they come swarming over the hills in their helicopters, we’ll blast ’em out of the sky. We’ll mow ’em down like Robert Taylor did them Japs in Bataan.”
“I saw that movie, Buster. They killed Taylor in the end.”
“No they didn’t. He was still shooting during the fade-out.”
Buster’s dad, Buster Block, Sr., the bunko used-car dealer, who interrupted the Cube’s midnight movie soirees every eight minutes with commercials for his reconverted shitboxes, had spent thousands of dollars on lawyers’ fees to keep his son out of the brig. The inexperienced military prosecutors were no match for Mr. Block’s bigname attorneys. Time after time they upstaged the court-martial board and had each case dismissed on a technicality the opening day of the trial.
When the military was not prosecuting Buster for drugs or sedition, they were hounding him about his unmilitary appearance, especially his sideburns. He was once permanently restricted to base by Sgt. Maj. William Fain Watson, who, upon measuring them, found that they were an eighth of an inch longer than regulation.
Buster counterattacked. He and Crabby broke into the administration office and appropriated from the sergeant major’s desk evidence of graft, pilfering and other improprieties committed by the brass. They deposited the incriminating documents in a bank safe-deposit box and sent copies to Alan Cranston, Ted Kennedy and other senators of liberal persuasion. Buster concluded each cover letter with “Can you help me? Or does the USMC run the Senate too?” Thus was a congressional investigation launched over two eighth-inch strips of Buster Block’s sideburns.
Buster and Crabby wore with honor the Black Sheep misfit tag. “We have a tradition to live up to here, mister,” Buster once lectured me.
“Lee Harvey Oswald served on this very base.”
“Really? That figures.”
“Chuck Whitman was a marine, but not the same caliber as Oswald.”
“Who’s Chuck Whitman?”
“He went bananas and picked off a dozen nobodies from a tower in Texas.”
“What do you mean ‘nobodies’? I don’t get it.”
Buster looked both hurt and surprised. “Kube Kommander, surely you believe in quality over quantity?”
Sgt. Maj. William Fain Watson referred to our Cube as “the asshole of the Marine Corps.” “My name is Sergeant Major William Fain Watson,” he announced after our Cube had once again failed weekly inspection. “Remember that name so you don’t ever forget it. Because if you do forget it, I’ll remind you. And if I have to remind you, you’d best never forget it again.”
“You know,” said Buster, later that same day, “I can never remember that lifer’s name.”
“Which one?” I asked.
“The tubby one with all the stripes and the itty-bitty mustache.”
“Sergeant Major William Fain Watson?”
“Is that who he is?”
“What about him?”
“He came by the Cube while you were out. He said it still looks like a shithouse.”
“It is a shithouse.”
“He told me to tell you to get it squared away.”
“What about the rest of you guys? You live here too.”
“You’re the Kube Kommander,” Buster saluted. “He also told me to tell you to trim your mustache because it reminds him of that goddamn taco bandit, Zapata.”
“He tells me that every time he sees me. Did he say anything else?”
“Yeah. He told me I have beady eyes and a criminal forehead. And he told me to remember that his name is Sergeant Major Whatshisface, and that I shouldn’t forget it, because if I did forget it, he’d remind me, and if he had to remind me, I’d best never forget it again. He said you’d better remember too.”
On Monday mornings, Buster, Crabby and I left the hillbilly behind to swab the barracks and shovel sheep shit while we reported on sick call. The three of us suffered from an assortment of physical and mental ailments to which the navy corpsmen gave a blanket diagnosis of “terminal malingering.”
After our visit to the dispensary, we’d hitchhike five miles into Laguna Beach to the Cosmic Eye Bookshop to pick up our “medication”—orange barrels—dispensed by the local hopheads who hawked their chromosome bustin’ psychedelic wares to assorted locos and jarheads in need of a dose of sunshine.
The day of the night the moonmen landed, I was taking a shower when Buster happened by.
“Kube Kommander, open your mouth. I have something for your head.”
“Organic mescaline.” He held up a horse capsule, half the size of his pinky.
“Yow! Where’d you get it?”
“Friend of mine, Charlie Manson. He’s running a commune on an old movie ranch out in the desert.”
“Commune, huh? Lots of free-love chicks?”
“Orgy city, Kube Kommander. I’ll take you up there next week.”
“Sounds decent.” I took the capsule from Buster, put it on the back of my tongue and swallowed a mighty gulp of shower water.
I stepped out of the shower stall, toweled myself dry and threw on a clean pair of skivvy drawers. Buster and I made our way back to the Cube where Crabby and the hillbilly were absorbed in a mystery movie about an ax-murderer. The hillbilly was guzzling Coors, and I took a long swig off one to wash down the cap of mescaline that was still sticking in my throat. The hillbilly didn’t indulge in drugs, but hung around Crabby, fascinated by his tales of big-time crime in Chicago.
Crabby got up and left at the next commercial, just as Buster Block’s dad was telling everyone which freeway to take to reach his used-car lot. The hillbilly left too, to scrounge up more beer.
The mescaline was doing its job. Already I was hallucinating. I strolled down the corridor to the head, where a look in the mirror told the story: One eyeball and several teeth dropped out of my skull. My mustache had grown into a bushy boa over six feet long and was winding itself around my neck. My white-wall marine haircut resembled Curly Joe’s of the Three Stooges. “Woob-bub-bub-bub-bub.” I deftly marblehopped the white and green Chinese checkerboard-tiled floor back to the Cube.
“Buster, your friend Charlie was right. This shit is dynamite!”
Buster leaped from his seat. “Don’t you ever sneak up behind me again, ever!” he screamed. He pulled me close to him. “The Ax-Murderer is loose in the barracks,” he whimpered, then rolled his eyeballs back into his head.
“Buster, take it easy, it’s only a movie, man.”
“Where’s Crabby’s pistol? I’m gonna snuff that psycho before he chops my head off!” He opened Crabby’s wall locker to search for the Luger, but the locker was empty except for a sack of dirty laundry. Buster dumped the clothes out on the floor and began rummaging through them.
“Crabby always carries his pistol,” I said. “Calm down, Buster, get a grip.”
“We’ve got to kill the Ax-Man!”
“Buster, it’s only a movie.” I turned off the TV.
“He’s gonna fuck up the revolution!”
“Revolution? What revolution?”
“Tonight we strike. That stuff you ate wasn’t mescaline.”
“Hahahahaha. You fool!”
“What was it, Buster?” I asked, my voice trembling. “A megadose of belladonna and sunshine. Me an’ Crabby’s been passing ’em out all day. We’re turning everybody around here into raving lunatics, then we’re taking over the base.”
“Oh, yes! We’re gonna rename the place El Dope-o. After that the sky’s the limit— California, America… the world!”
“Oh, yes!” Sparking bolts of lightning shot from Buster’s head as he confirmed: “Crabby’s trucking ammo crates up to Glendale right now. My old man’s out of town. We swiped an M-60 machine gun from the armory and set it up on the balcony outside his bedroom window.”
A collection of radiating spheres, hillbilly beer cans, metallic cones, Crabby clothes and blinking neon isosceles triangles began to grow and expand until I thought they’d crush and smother me. Buster’s blatherings turned from Ax-Man and revolution to the inevitability of a redskin attack; he had been popping down the dope like Good ‘n’ Plenty since noon.
“There’s thousands of Injuns massing outside the Cube,” he said in a doomed voice. “Look, here comes one now!”
Red and out of breath, the hillbilly had reappeared with a fresh six-pack of Coors under his arm. “Ah stole this from the PX,” he wheezed. “Ah had a whole case, but the MPs were hot on mah tail an’ ah had to scuttle the rest.” He yanked a can out of the pack and staggered over to me, throwing a palsied arm around my neck. “Have a cold brew, ol’ buddy, you look like you can use one.”
“Get out of here, you dumb grit!” I cried, pushing the hillbilly through a flaming pyramid. He must have hit the light switch on the wall, because everything went black. I groped my way out of the Cube, into the corridor. “I’m cuttin’ out before the MPs get here, Buster. You and the hayseed can spend the rest of your twisted lives in the brig together for all I care.”
“Never mind the MPs, Kube Kommander, what about these Indians!”
Indian war whoops and “yip-yip-yips” spurred to a gallop my flight from Buster’s insanity. Catching sight of the MPs entering the front door, I detoured into the head, found an empty shithouse stall and locked myself in. I sat on the bowl, scrunched my eyes shut and prayed for a miracle of deliverance from the impending Armageddon.
My prayers were heard.
I was on a sunny island. Dorothy Lamour, leading a bevy of exotic native girls, presented me with a bouquet of orchids. Cocoa-skinned and saronged, the young lovelies began feeding me tropical fruits and dancing around an incredibly oversized penis that seemed to be my very own. Then Dorothy started massaging my mulesized member until whistling Fourth of July rockets shot through the air, volcanos erupted, sparkling multicolored pinwheels twirled, bands played and, screaming, my brain burst in a fire storm of red, white and blue. Through the smoke and flames there came Sgt. Maj. William Fain Watson, plowing a tank through my harem of squealing girls.
I dropped from heaven into hell.
With my skivvy drawers sopping from the orgasm, I barreled out of the shitter, back to the Cube, ignoring the pitchforked Mickey Mouse devils blocking my path, bursting through hallucinations like so many soap bubbles.
One of the rodent demons was, in fact, the hillbilly, who went crashing against a set of wall lockers.
And the nightmare was only beginning.
In the Cube, Buster was struggling on the floor.
”Buster,” I cried, tearing at my hair stubble, “it’s the end of the world!”
Buster’s pupils were the size of dimes. “It almost was the end of my world, Kube Kommander. I was lucky to escape with my scalp—no thanks to you. If those giant crabs from Crabby’s locker hadn’t eaten all the Indians, I’d be buzzard bait by now and my hair’d be hanging in the tepee trophy room.”
We were moving deeper and deeper into bonkers territory. Buster was running around in little circles now with his wrists crossed over his head. “Let’s knock off the bullshit and get me untied.”
“The giant crabs were feasting on the last redskin and I was bushwacked by the AxMan. He got the drop on me and tied my hands. Hahahahahahahaha!”
“What’s so funny?”
“Crab got ‘im. Ate the dude up, ax and all. Then the crabs all turned into flowers and trees. You shoulda been here, Kube Kommander, it was unbelievable.”
“Buster, I’m scared. Let’s turn ourselves into sick bay.”
“The hell with that. Let’s turn ourselves into B52s and bomb the base.”
“Buster, I’m serious!” I shot to my feet.
“Hail, Cerious!” Buster saluted. “Caesar sends greetings from Rome.” He picked himself up off the floor, and, popping a cap of dope, sauntered over to the window. “Where the hell is Crabby? He oughta be back by now—God, Kube Kommander, look at this.” “Now what?” “The MPs are out there rounding everybody up!” I rushed to the window. “Oh, no! They’re carrying people out of the barracks wrapped in straitjackets.”
Buster was rubbing his hands in glee. “It’s all going according to plan.” “Plan? What plan?” “Long live the revolution!”
I fled the Cube, gnashing my teeth, wailing about the MPs raiding the barracks, slowed only by the sticky wetness between my legs… Jesus. My skivvy drawers were still drenched with semen from the orgasm in the head. If the MPs found me like this they’d toss me in the brig till doomsday. I ripped off the drawers, stuffed them in the trash barrel at the end of the corridor and flew naked back to the Cube.
Christ! My name was stamped on those drawers—KUBE COMMANDER. I raced back down the corridor, tore the name from the canned skivvies and flushed it down the head toilet, making sure it disappeared. Back to the Cube. There was no place to hide, only Crabby’s empty wall locker. I yanked it open: “Hillbilly! What are you doing in there!”
“Ain’t you heard? The MPs are cartin’ ever’body to the hoosegow!” He hopped out of the wall locker and sprinted out of the Cube.
Where the hell was Buster? He had touched off the revolution and vanished. I lay down on my rack with my head under the covers, waiting for the MPs to carry me from the barracks in a straitjacket.
Sounds of approaching footsteps. My number was up. The covers were yanked off my head.
“Kube Kommander, you look positively bughouse.”
“I’m scared, Buster, the MPs are gonna bust us.”
“Don’t worry. The MPs are all over at the mess hall. I just smoke-bombed the place. Let’s relax and watch some TV. The moonmen are about to land.”
“That’s right, Kube Kommander, the astronauts are touching down in their lunar module.”
“Looner module?” Buster switched on the set and a simulated version of America’s first moon landing focused in. The image abruptly changed. Buster’s dad was smiling out at us, spewing a new pitch: “Hi, friends, Buster Block here with dynamite deals for your next set of wheels. I can’t take you to the moon, but why don’t you come on out to Glendale for a ride in one of my reconditioned Chevys. Let’s talk turkey, folks—these specially marked down beauties are just the thing for—”
“Shit,” said Buster, turning his dad off, “what an asshole.”
“The moonmen!” I let out a mad laugh and rushed to the window, scanning the sky. “I want to see the moonmen!”
“Moonmen mah ass.” The hillbilly was back. “It’s them jungle bunnies runnin’ loose out there hopped up on bad dope.”
“How do you know they’re not moonmen dressed up as jungle bunnies?” said Buster. “Maybe it’s an invasion.”
“Well, feed me corn and watch me grow!”
“Hillbilly, be a modern-day Paul Revere. Roust up the barracks patriots. Tell them the moonmen are coming!”
The hillbilly’s funny bone had been struck and he loosed a stream of degenerate cackles, staggering out of the Cube, echoing Buster’s call to arms: “The moonmen’re comin’! The moonmen’re comin’!”
We heard a muffled scream and peeked out the Cube. Bobo Bello, the Black Sheep’s Neanderthal barracks sergeant, was at the end of the corridor, his hairy leglike arm wrapped around the hillbilly’s neck:
“Every night you druggie bastards keep me up. I can’t get no SLEEEP!” he roared, slugging the hillbilly out the front door.”
From outside the barracks came a sickening crunch of metal against metal and the shattering of glass. Buster and I looked out the window. The hillbilly was sprawled out on the sidewalk. Ten yards from his twisted form, in the parking lot, perched upon the hood of a rapidly disintegrating late-model Chevy, was a demon-eyed, sweat-dripping, panic-stricken black marine, swinging a sledgehammer at a clip that would have intimidated John Henry himself.
“Hey, Buster, I know that guy. He works on the flight line. He just bought that buggy from your dad with his six-year reenlistment bonus.”
“Serves him right,” said Buster. “That dope I gave him brought him to his senses.”
“Six—” pow! The poor slob was picking up the tempo. “Mo’—” smash! “Years.” Boom! “Six—” whomp! “Mo’—” fwap! “Years.” Kablam!
A siren and flashing red light hearkened the arrival of the MP paddy wagon. John Henry was handcuffed and heaved into the back of the truck. They spotted the hillbilly out cold on the ground and pitched him in too.
The MPs pulled out as Crabby Bornman screech-stopped Sgt. Maj. William Fain Watson’s candy apple red ’66 Chevy station wagon in front of the barracks. The car, California license plate 1451, power steering, power brakes, low mileage—a real family wagon—was a steal at $795. Buster’s dad said so himself when he sold it to him. This was the fourth time the car had been stolen in six months.
Crabby got out of the car and walked over to the window. “The revolution’s off,” he told Buster.
“I drove up to Glendale with the ammo crates. Your dad was on the balcony with that butler, Hives. He was feeding ammo belts into the machine gun while your old man kept firing at the moon. Then the cops came and—”
“Buster, look!” I interrupted. “It’s your dad. He’s back on the TV!”
The moon landing had been interrupted by a special bulletin, an at-the-scene report from the estate of a Glendale man who was running amok, holding off half the L.A. police force with automatic weapon fire. The camera crew zoomed in on one of the cops leaping from a second-story window onto the back of the triggerman, who was then wrestled into handcuffs by a swarm of fuzz.
“Just take the freeway,” shouted the battered maniac. “Take the freeway. Drive right in, I’ll be there. Take the freeway. Take it that way! Take it any way!” he screamed.
“Looks like Dad found the acid stash,” said Buster Block, Jr., with disgust.
The first rays of light had already climbed the Santa Ana mountains and were winging westward for Hawaii when I was rudely shaken awake by the slab of beef that six hours earlier had strangled the hillbilly. My eyes locked on Sergeant Bello’s right bicep, where a USMC bulldog growled: DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR.
“Report to Sergeant Major William Fain Watson,” Bello barked, “at zero-nine-hundred.”
Numbness. After so many late-show gangster movies, I finally knew how that last day on Death Row began. The past years of my marine life were reeling before my eyes when Buster crashed my thoughts.
“So, what’re you gonna do, Kube Kommander?” he said, sprawling upon his rack.
“How about if I cry and tell him what a good boy I’ll be if he gives me another chance?”
“Watson doesn’t like marines who cry.”
“Why me?” I lamented.
“Why not you? You’re responsible, you’re the Kube Kommander,” Buster saluted.
A few months till my discharge and this had to happen; 0855—at least I was prompt. My mustache was trimmed and I’d cleaned up the Cube before reporting. Maybe they’d knock a couple years brig time off for that.
A baby-faced lance corporal sat behind a desk outside Watson’s office, typing the squadron plan of the day for the morrow. The boy’s face had never felt a razor. Just a kid. The replacements were getting younger every day. The door to the sergeant major’s office whisked open and I walked in tall, a sneer on my lips. “Wipe that shit-eating grin off your face,” Watson scowled. I snapped to attention, but my “Yessir!” never passed my lips; it stuck in my mouth alongside my heart, for crouched in a corner, partially hidden by the Black Sheep color standard and the Star Spangled Banner, were the hillbilly and the drooling shell of what had once been John Henry, the hammer swinger.
I froze in my spit-shined shoes.
Watson handed me a piece of paper with the outline of a human face. Horizontal lines, bisected by two vertical bars, formed a tight frame around the upper lip.
“This,” he said, “is a guideline for the proper military mustache. Make sure you keep yours regulation. That womb broom you had reminded me of that goddamn taco bandit, Zapata.”
Watson himself had a pencil-thin Boston Blackie mustache. He stood six feet five inches tall and weighed over 300 pounds, an Oliver Hardy on stilts.
The baby-faced clerk opened the door and in came the MPs. “Lock these bastards up and throw away the key,” Watson ordered them.
I shuffled to the door with the hillbilly and John Henry, who looked like zombie extras in a John Carradine movie I’d once seen.
“Where do you think you’re going, Zapata?” Watson demanded. I faced him and smartly snapped back to attention as the MPs handcuffed John Henry to the hillbilly and led them away.
“You men let me know right away if you hear anything about my car,” Watson told the MPs.
“Yes, sergeant major—uh, Private Blackjack was picked up last night at Disneyland. Should we send a truck up there to pick him up?”
“Disneyland? What the hell was that sheep doing at Disneyland?”
“Riding the monorail, sergeant major.”
Watson staggered backwards and said in a soft, disbelieving tone, “Riding the monorail…” He shook his head. “Pick him up and restrict him to his pen.”
“Yes, sergeant major.”
“And you, cum-bubble, that Cube you live in is a shithouse.” “It’s all squared away now, sergeant major.” “It is, huh? Well, see that it stays that way.”
“I will, sergeant major.” “You’d fucking well better. Dismissed.” Dismissed? Had the governor come through with my pardon? Was I out of the hot seat? I reached for the door. “Just a minute, corporal.” “Yes, sergeant major?” “Last night?” “Last night.” “What were you doing last night?”
“Well, I uh—” Omigod. I was either still hallucinating or Buster Block was creeping in the window behind the sergeant major.
“I was, uh, watching the moonmen land—I mean the astronauts landing on the moon.”
Buster broke open two fat horse caps and dumped the white powder into the cup of coffee on the sergeant major’s desk, stirred it up and disappeared back out the window.
“That was quite an achievement, wasn’t it, corporal?”
“It… it certainly was, sergeant major. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it.”
“Neither will I, corporal, neither will I.”
I left Watson’s office and kept walking, never looking back. I wanted to hide out somewhere, away from the loony lambchops of the Black Sheep squadron, someplace the Marine Corps would never dream of looking for me.
Passing the airfield, I saw the monthly marine replacement draft loading onto the Pan Am jet for ‘Nam. I joined the line, boarded the plane and took a seat in the tail section of the craft. The flight across was uneventful; I passed the time getting drunk with a party of American Indians, who babbled endlessly about Ira Hayes’s flag-raising venture on Mount Surabachi and how they were going to shove Ho Chi Minh’s chopsticks up his ass. I wondered if they might not be refugees from one of Buster Block’s hallucinations.
When we landed in Da Nang, I debarked with the rest of the cannon fodder and kept walking. I made my way out of the camp perimeter and disappeared into the jungles of Southeast Asia, where I finally found peace.
*This story is dedicated to Kenny Perkins, who lived it with me.
THE MOONMEN RETURNED,
THEY’RE BACK ON THE GROUND,
BUT YOU, MY FRIEND KENNY,
WILL NEVER COME DOWN.
Read the full issue here.