Saturday, May 24, 2008

Singin' in the Rain

While we were getting that seven inches of rain last weekend I was out in my rain suit walking first up to the greenhouse then down to the hoop houses to see what damage was going on.

It was coming down so heavy it was hard to see. And while at first I was listening to music on my ipod but as the rain really started coming down it became impossible to hear Springsteen’s Born in the USA through those little earphones so I just turned it off and instead listened to the rain fall.

Rain beating down like it was the end of the world.

Which of course reminds me of forty years ago when Jim and Mike, a guy named Paisley and I were standing in the rain.

It had been raining all night.

In fact it had really been raining hard with no let up for most of the past week.

Only the last night we got hit with the proverbial cats and dogs and since it was Asia, elephants and leopards.

It was the rainy season along the Saigon River out by Cambodia and for the last 24 hours the rain had been coming straight down in bucket loads only without the buckets.

That’s when the wall of the bunker I slept in, probably the best bunker in the little hillside outpost we’d lived in for the past month, a child’s fort with airfield tarmac reinforcing the bunker roof and someone’s French name scratched in the concrete floor.

That’s when, just as it was getting dark the outside wall of the bunker, part of the berm surrounding the triangle shaped fort, turned to mud and disintegrated.

One moment the wall was solid sandbags. The next it was mud.

And the wall, no longer solid, turned into a liquid gunk and poured across the bunker.

Luckily, at the time, I was in my hammock reading by flashlight, rocking back and forth in the hammock, reading I don’t know what, some science fiction I imagine, that I’d fished out of the box of books that occasionally came from some women’s clubs back in the states.

The only place I could find to hang my hammock was fortunately up near the bunker’s ceiling, tying the rope through holes in the metal tarmac holding the roof up. This fortunately put my hammock four plus feet off of the floor. Fortunately because when the mud slide came it filled up the bunker from bottom to several inches below my hammock.

Everything below the hammock disappeared in to the goo. My rifle, my boots, my aid bag. My foot locker full of medicines and bandages.

I had to swim and struggled through that mess over to the opening with the ladder that I climbed up to find the outside world.

Once above ground I wasn’t greeted with anything cheerful. Just more rain and my other team members huddled together.

Their bunkers, which weren’t as well built as mine had filled with water earlier in the day and I was forced to join them for a night spent hovering under a make shift shelter of roofing tin on an improvised frame made out of two by fours recently scavenged from the nearest American base camp.

The four of us were the enlisted members of a small advisory team that would move from Vietnamese outpost to outpost around the rural countryside, allegedly giving the local regional force and popular force (sort of like Vietnamese national guard) units advise on how to fight the war against their neighbors and other Viet Cong warriors .

There were two other members of our team. Two officers, but earlier in the week, when the rain threatened to wash out the road connecting us to what passed for civilization in that part of the world, and a dry bed and hot meal, had taken the team jeep and skiddadled to the district teams headquarters in the former French mansion up the road in the provincial capital.

The official explanation was they were away attending a mandated meeting on strategy or training or some such nonsense, but we knew, the four of us huddled under the too small pieces of tin, that they had really abandoned us in search of a dry bed and a warm meal.

Under the tin with us we had a radio. The captain’s expensive short wave radio he had forbidden us to use in his absence. Fortunately, though, it too had been hanging from my bunker roof. the bunker I shared with him, so we were able to salvage it.

And there we stood, with the rain pounding on the tin shelter, listening to rock and roll on radio Beijing’s short wave station until the music show ended and a history of World War ll in the Pacific according to the Chinese came on. Being a early history buff, I tried to listen, but while the facts seemed to jive with what I’d been taught in an Arlington County High School, they were somehow weighed and put together differently until finally my head started to ache and I turned it off and started listening to what the others were saying.

They, of course, were talking about the weather.

I still remember Jim speaking. “If I get out of this,” he said. “If I make it back to the world I’m never ever standing out in the rain for the rest of my life.”

To that Paisley chimed in. “That’s two of us. No more rain for me. I’m moving to somewhere where it hardly ever rains and the only time I’m going to look at it is from inside a car with my windshield wipers slapping back and forth.”

To that Mike added “No rain for me either. When I get back to the world I’ll look out the window at it but never will I willingly stand in the rain for ever again for anymore.”

He said it one more time.

“When I get back to the world...” and at that his voice trailed off.

We all knew what Mike was thinking. He was the one that was pretty sure that he wasn’t ever making it back to the world. He had had one of those premonitions, I think they’re called. One that told him that something, somewhere, at sometime before he got on that airplane for the states was going to get him.

At that we all stopped talking and just stood there listening to the rain come down. Some times harder and sometimes a little bit lighter. All of us thinking our thoughts. All of us standing on the wet ground. The water filling the bottoms of jungle boots or in my case, since my boots were under the muddy goo, a pair of flip flops I’d left outside the bunker door.

I didn’t take part in the condemnation of rain conversation. Since it was only a month until I was due to go home my day dreaming drifted sort of towards walking in the rain with a girl. I hadn’t yet seen that Gene Kelly musical Singin' in the Rain but my day dream went something like the dance scene, only, only without the dancing and probably without the singing.

“How about you?” Mike asked. “what will you do back in the states when it rains like this?”

“I don’t know,” I answered,

I sure wasn’t going to give him a hint about the thoughts I was thinking. I could imagine the next half hour of ribbing.

“But I do know, if I tried to tell anyone about this, anyone back in the world that we spent the war standing out in the rain soaked to the skin under a little piece of tin I don’t think they’d believe me.

“This stuff here, If I wasn’t here right now, but instead if I was reading it, or maybe watching it on television, I’d think it was a joke. a comedy. Four guys standing out in the rain in VC country talking about staying dry back home.

“I wouldn’t believe it.”

They were silent for a little bit, I don’t know, trying to imagine what I was saying, what it would be like trying to explain this to someone that hadn’t been there.

Finally, after a bit, Paisley turned the captains radio back on and started turning the dial, trying to find some music, or maybe a talk show in English.


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