Daily Archives: May 12, 2009

Randy Ford Author- Peace Corps, the draft, the war, and R & R in Manila

      Before they could leave the Philippines there were official things they had to do for the Peace Corps.   The Peace Corps was in Ermita and on Jorge Bacobo Street.   It was easy to find; but most people couldn’t find it.   It was an old two-story house, and no different from other houses on the street.   Obviously it had been a residence and had served that purpose for a very long time; but now it housed the Peace Corps.   On the ground floor was a reception area, a lounge with a kitchen, and, most importantly, a clinic.   Whenever they had to see a doctor Susan and Ted had come here, but otherwise they had avoided the offices; the outer offices and the inner sanctum of the director whom they were required to see before they could leave.

      Their first stop was downstairs at the clinic.   They had never been so thoroughly checked over.   The clean white walls, freshly painted and scrubbed, gave one confidence that he or she would receive the very best care.   The shutters, folded-in when they were open, allowed in a cool breeze.   In a prominent place, hanging on a wall, there was a framed photograph of President Nixon.   His was the only photograph, official looking and signed…a head-shot, glossy, with Richard M. Nixon engraved across the bottom…suggesting that he ran place which wasn’t far from the truth; but somehow, perhaps because of Ted’s loss of confidence in his government; he associated scorn with the photograph.   He, though, hadn’t forgotten the glory of past wars.   It was this war he would avoid and it called for desperate action once he and Susan made the decision, so painful that he didn’t like thinking about it.   It was not just the war anymore; it was also about what his country stood for, and to have learned it from his Maoist friends, he had the Peace Corps to think for that.   It was a time for reflection, and it all came down to not wanting to die, as he put it, in an unjust war.   That was what all the big rush was about.

      So unexpectedly they found themselves standing in front of the director.   Ted had been thinking about what his father would do in his shoes, trying to find some justification for what he was about to do, the option clear enough, the one option out of two, and one that had been taken before by many men, a reaction to the strange and unfair idea of being drafted from the Peace Corps, the very idea, how dare Nixon…though it had never been fair for those who hadn’t received a deferment for whatever reason, an excuse or something that would keep them out of Nam.   It was like being driven into exile.   A lifetime in exchange for a year, if you survived it: Clark Air Force Base, Cavite, or Olongapo, his draft board had given him a choice; yes, a choice that really wasn’t a choice for him; but here, in the Peace Corps clinic, they declared him perfectly healthy.

      There would’ve been more than twenty-five men standing in line.   Many of them would’ve been Filipino, and Ted doubted that any of them really knew what they were getting into.   The world was quickly closing in around him; Ted didn’t think unfortunately that he would have any trouble passing the psychological part of the examination, in spite of all of his bias and prejudices; but the tests were all easy, simple for him and even enjoyable, not as difficult as a college midterm.   He would tell them what he thought of the war.   He wished the tests weren’t so easy, but of course he had taken those tests before.

     And all this time he was thinking about refusing to go…if he were back home, he would be thinking seriously about Canada.   He hadn’t talked it over with Susan yet.   He hadn’t seen enough of her recently for that, and anyway he wasn’t going let her make the decision.   It seemed to him awfully unfair, a cruel joke in fact, after joining the Peace Corps, then to have them come after him: what was his draft board thinking?   But he didn’t want to seem unpatriotic.   He knew nothing about the Army and had worked very hard to avoid that crap.   He thought it was better, made more sense for him, to get his education.   And year after year, he had gotten a deferment.   He went to college, graduate school, studied hard, and joined the Peace Corps.   He thought again that that should’ve been enough.   He was serving his country.   Not as some dumb-ass grunt, but helping create something special: a national theater, no less.   And at the same time he was afraid.   He could hardly answer a single question on the test.   They promised to send him to Germany.   Should he chance it?

      He said, “Honey, this came in the mail today.”   She said, “Well, open it.”   So he, poor guy, was told to report for his physical.   He said, “I don’t want to do this.”   She said, “What choice do you have?’   He said, “I need to talk to a lawyer.   Any lawyer.”   She had always been the realistic one.   “A lawyer won’t do you any good.   A lawyer is going to tell you to go do it.”   He said, “I’ll think about it.   Which shall it be?   Clark, Cavite, or Olongapo?”   She said, “I’d take Olongapo.   You’ve been to Clark.”   And then with a smile, “Which has the prettiest bar-girls?   Seriously, my husband will go to Olongapo and along the way he’ll be decide our future.   Ask him for me what I’m afraid to ask.   Will it be Vietnam?   I’ll stay home and he’ll call me long distance.   And along the way I could have a baby.”   He said, “Unfortunately, that’s been tried before and didn’t work.   I still think a lawyer is our best bet.   I know the Peace Corps has its own lawyer just for this.”

      The first thing Monday morning Ted took off on his own to see the Peace Corps lawyer.   He hadn’t worked out a plan yet, but was ready to hear the worse.   He simply said, “I’ve got to know.”   Susan said, when she found out, “I’m glad to see you’re not sitting on your ass waiting for them to come after you.”

      Ted’s best friend in high school was sent to Vietnam.   He had made up his mind that he wouldn’t wait to be drafted.   That was really all Ted knew.   Manila was one of the places servicemen in Vietnam liked to go for R & R, which always reminded Ted of his best friend in high school.   Manila wasn’t their favorite place for R & R by a long shot; Bangkok was; but Mabini Street was cool.   Mabini Street was a place where they could go shopping, and shopping for married men sometimes seemed more appetizing than bar-hopping.   It was a very long street, filled with bargains, not as good for bargain hunting as Hong Kong, but almost; and it was because of the bargains that married men flocked there.   It was because married servicemen went there that Ted started looking there for his very best friend in high school.   Higher-ups who designated Manila, as a place to go for R & R, must’ve have had Mabini Street in mind.   Some servicemen on R & R said Mabini Street was a good place to save money; the more you spent the more you saved, that sort of thing; and Ted thought that that was how his best friend would think.   Servicemen on R & R had money to burn; and no one knew it better than some Filipinas.   Some Filipinos said that it was servicemen on R & R who corrupted Filipinas, coming from Vietnam, horny and all; and as servicemen kept coming, Ted spent more of his time on Mabini Street, lookin’.. .  But he didn’t know he could pick up the telephone and call his friend in Vietnam.   He didn’t know war had progressed that far.   And now, more than ever, after receiving his draft notice, Ted wanted to track down his very best friend and find out first hand how much fun a trip to Vietnam would be.

   Randy Ford

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      Suzanne Kingsbury is the author of THE SUMMER FLETCHER GREELEY LOVED ME and THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO GRACEY novel that have been optioned for film and translated in foreign markets.  Her new novel, THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS, is set in Panama during the time of Noriega.  She is co-editor of THE ALUMNI GRILL and has been anthologized in THE BLUE MOON CAFE and AT MY GRANDMOTHER’S TABLE.  Her work has appeared in many publications, including “Atlanta Magazine” and “Glamour.”  She has been an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, received a Fulbright Scholarship in Sri Lanka, and recently founded “Words without Walls,” a program that connect authors to people in rehabilitation centers, prisons and military bases in Iraq.

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