Monthly Archives: August 2004

A Swift Boat Named Desire

“That we are still fighting about the Vietnam War is sad. Watching an old political fight try to finish itself thirty years later in either the wreckage of the Kerry campaign or its triumph over the attempt to wreck– that’s sad.” sobs Jay Rosen manfully into his cyberpillow.

But as the redoubtable Bob Somerby reminds us, astonishment at the grotesque absurdity of it all, rather than mere sadness, is truly the order of the day.

The facts, as Dirk Bogarde was wont to say in Providence, are not in dispute. John Kerry served in Vietnam, was decorated for that service and afterwards joined Vietnam Veterans Against the War, protesting the U.S. invasion and mass genocide.

George W. Bush did everything in his power to avoid combat. The circumstances of that avoidance inspiring the independent-minded to launch examinations of their own, the “Mainstream” media being completely disinterested in the matter Dan Foomkin of Pravda proving of late to be the exception to this rule

Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld avoided the war via a series of cleverly arranged legal dodges — far in advance of that most reviled of dodgers, Bill Clinton.

“I had other priorities,” Cheney famously declared.

For my part, I got out merely by checking the “Whoopie Box”: “Do you have homosexual tendencies?” Tendencies? Darling, back in first grade I had tendencies ! By high school I had blossomed into the full flower of homolust, enjoying my first affair with a reckless Manhattan beauty whose current whereabouts I muse over whenever fluffy clouds of nostalgia waft my way. Perhaps it’s not by chance that that same year– 1961 – I first heard about Vietnam and the war that John F. Kennedy was planning to wage there from a classmate who later ran for vice president of the American Communist Party.

It wasn’t, of course, until many years (and many men) later that the draft board got around to calling me. “Let’s make some room here!” said the (not unattractive) young soldier reading my form. He saw that the “Whoopie Box” was checked and felt, discretion being the better part of velour, that the others standing in line behind me in their tighty-whities ought to give me some room.

Tactfully he beckoned me to lean forward.

“Uh. . . .do you play the man or do you play the woman?” he asked.

“Play” had never crossed my mind in this guise. So not as to upset him I replied “Both!”

Needless to say, this only served to upset him anyway. Frowning, he sent me off to another room where we were to wait in turn for psychiatric examination. But it was exceedingly crowded that day, and so to alleviate the crush I, along with several others, were given 4-Fs and sent on our semi-merry way.

And it was indeed semi-merry, for while we’d “beat the draft” — our sexual orientation rendering us too immoral to be trained to kill perfect strangers on the other side of the world — we knew straight friends who weren’t so “lucky.”

I recall one such — a College Point youth who volunteered for combat. He had no political opinions of any kind we knew about, and wasn’t what could be called “Patriotic” in any demonstrable way. Yet he wanted to go, and go he did. And cripplingly injured he came back — a bullet having removed a section of his brain. He “recovered” in time — his speech impaired and a limp added to his walk. But he was, as they say, “never the same person again.” And why should he have been? He’s still alive somewhere I believe, but I haven’t talked to him in thirty years — talk after his war injuries being impossible for reasons having little to do with the injuries themselves. For I was “never the same again.”

As the war lurched on, and on and on, I went to many a demonstration — my favorite being on in Washington D.C. right at the time the Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers album came out. All of us on the “Gay Bus” (G.A.A. and other similar orgs) pulled into the nation’s capitol singing “Honky Tonk Woman” at the top of our lungs. It was a lovely outing.

Lovely in a far more bittersweet way were the many vets I bedded over the course of the war (just doing my patriotic duty, like Ann Sheridan told me to in Thank Your Lucky Stars) They were the ones who didn’t check the “Whoopie Bix.”

Maybe they didn’t think they could get a 4-F. Maybe they didn’t know they were gay — or were fighting their gayness by signing up. In any event you could always spot them at the Baths, lurching furtively about, often breaking down in post-coital tears. Sexual tenderness provided only tentative relief to men like these. It couldn’t erase what they had been through, and couldn’t prevent what was to come for those going back.

But there were exceptions to this rule. Most vivid in my mind is a sailor I spent a memorable day and night with in The Rambles of Central Park, having sex with various combinations of others both military and civilian. He liked to watch. He liked being watched. He didn’t talk about the war. Why should he? No talk of any sort was required. Resplendent in his “whites” (cited by Genet as “the most perfect erotic garment ever created”) he lay back and stretched, and smiled, lit up a joint and gently groped me — and anyone else who caught his fancy. After awhile we repaired to some east side bar (not a gay one) for a drink, and then it was back to The Rambles once again, carousing into the wee smalls. A date was made for another rendezvous that neither of us kept, needless to say. How could we repeat such chance perfection?

I can still see his Cheshire Cat smile. And when I think about the war it’s his body that I most keenly recall.