Chapter 10 – Go Ask Alice

Max was no happier to see me this time. Standing in the yard he shuffled his feet in the pea gravel and looked intently at the ground. He was more silent than usual. Finally, he said, “At least the Coast Guard serves some useful function. They don’t go around shooting people. I mean they actually save lives and rescue ships at sea.” That was his rationale for joining the Coast Guard.

I was aware of the family split over the moral implications of the war but I expected at least a friendly reception, remembering how much it meant to have my family visit when I was in basic training with nothing but that to look forward to. Marge though it was pretty low class to be so dismissive of my efforts, she said as we drove back to New York. That was the last time I saw him.

As we headed north approaching Ft. Monmouth, Marge suggested that I drop her at the bus station near the post saving me the round trip to New York. A class act, I thought and took her up on it.

“It sounds like Marge was good to you. Where was the rejection? Did you stand her up on a date or something?”

No, no. We kept on dating through the summer of 69 till I left for Saigon. That spring we saw “Hair” on stage in New York. It was further off the beaten track than I’d ever been. It was a celebration of the counter culture that I barely knew existed. It was exhilarating and provoking and dangerously sexy. We sat close on the cross-town bus home. I kissed her on the stoop of her apartment building as her father buzzed her in the door.”

“Wow.” said Agnes sarcastically. “But for her father it might have gotten to be a real romance.”

“I was delirious the whole trip home to Ft. Monmouth. Marge had interesting friends. We walked way up town to a party, window shopping on the way and took the bus back, late. Her friends had lively parties and talked art, history, philosophy and politics. Some of them went to Columbia. I was high on the conversation for days afterward. Educated people actually cared what I had to say but mostly I listened to conversations about things I never heard of before.

“In mid July my section chief got an inquiry for an instructor set up and teach course in Radar repair for the Vietnamese Army. Many details were to be worked out but I expected to go sometime that summer. On July 21 Marge and I sat in her family’s apartment and watched television as American astronauts land on the moon. It was totally amazing. Her father broke out a bottle of champaign and we toasted American ingenuity. That was one of the last times I saw Marge. By early August I was on my way to Saigon.”

“So did you see her again after you came home?”

“Well, yes and no.”

“When I got back in late ’69 the anti-war movement had become a serious flood-tide that nearly swept me off my feet. It hit me completely unawares. I called up Marge thinking we could pick up where we left off.

I called her for a date. Saturday afternoon. She agreed but, perhaps with less enthusiasm than I’d hoped. I was excited to see her. I rang her bell and she came down. It was raining and I didn’t have an umbrella. She went back upstairs and fetched an old one for me. She had a snappy, new, black and white checked one. We didn’t share.

We saw some neurotic Woody Allen flick then went to a neighborhood bar afterward. She said she’d been keeping company with friends uptown, and on Long Island. ‘Its very exclusive.’ We walked back to her family’s apartment. Though it was early, she didn’t invite me in. I called her again a week or so later about seeing a play that took a month or so to get tickets.

“I think I’m busy that night,” she said.

“You want your umbrella back,” I asked.

“No, you can keep it,” she replied.

I never saw her again.

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