Taz and Kodak

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Around America

The travel was exciting before it became routine, before it became redundant, before it became boring. Seeing the country from a train wasn't bad. It was a good country. It was tall and it was wide, but mostly it was long.

There was Portland, Seattle, Spokane, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas, and then Phoenix. There was a week to a city in the big cities and two or three days in the towns in between. Some of the motels were less ostentatious out in the small towns, but every where they went, the motorcades sped from point A to point B, passing quickly past the points of interest to get them to an event on time.

The too busy mayors without connections handed over the cities' keys and left the luncheon early. This left Taz and Kodak with constant heartburn and time on their hands, and they remembered to make a mental note of something they wanted to get a closer look at, once they were off duty.

Some motels had no dining room. They spent time exploring for local dining delights, often ending up at a fast food eatery.

The trains rolled on with Taz always sitting next to the window, looking out. He no longer wore his uniform between stops. At first it was all he wore, but they were hard to maintain week in and week out. Saving them for appearances seemed smart. Taz's jeans and T-shirts felt plenty comfortable.

The temperatures in the train were comfortable but it might be 55 or 110 outside. Taz was accustomed to the heat of Vietnam and the cool weather made him smile.

Kodak was in a constant state of change. He had enough shirts and shorts to work his way through the entire country a couple of times. Jeans and T-shirts were most comfortable to him on the train. He saved the colorful attire for appearances.

The boys had attained an equal amount of fame by the time they made it to Texas. They were well aware of one another's presence, and Taz usually started out and was the star of the show. He knew what look to give Kodak to get him up to the microphone, moving the conversation from war to picture taking in a war zone.

Both sides of their story were fascinating to the audiences who lined up to get seats, hours before an appearance. There were army honor guards at each stop, and newspaper executives who came to honor their man as well.

The best times were the times they spent away from the crowds. They were so recognizable by virtue of what they wore on stage that almost no one recognized them in every day clothes. They took to calling one another T and K, after drawing attention to themselves when they used each other's names. There weren't many men called Taz or Kodak.

They spoke to soldiers and college students. They were sponsored by the National Chamber of Commerce and the Daughters of the American Revolution. They learned a neutrality speak, offending no one, and getting applause from almost everyone. They were the goodwill ambassadors for the Vietnam War.

It was on their second day in San Antonio, after touring the Alamo, the word came. Their presence was requested in Washington DC. They would stop in Houston, Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth, St Louis, Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, before going on to the Capitol City.

"Why Washington? We've been in every podunk town between here and Vietnam and after another month they want us in Washington?" Taz pondered. "I'll be up for discharge soon. Maybe they want me while they can still tell me what to do."

"It's Washington. They're politicians. Someone decided we weren't going to embarrass them. You aren't going to sign up for another tour? You can name your own price, soldier."

"I got to get off this train. I don't know what I'll do. I didn't expect to be alive."

"That does complicate things. We've been at this over three months. Now they want to see you in DC. Your star is rising."

"Us," Taz corrected. "Our star. We're a team. Seems like a year."

"I've got a feeling Washington will be about you. They don't care so much about a picture taker. I'm part of the press, you know."

"You're part of Taz and Kodak is what I know. I got nothing without you. Promise me you won't leave me alone with those people?"

"I'm the enemy, Taz, since Cronkite declared the war a stalemate. The press is losing the war."

"Walter did that? Shame on him. He lose his script?"

"Yes, he did, and it's not popular being a member of the fourth estate in DC. This is where the wars are thought up and they don't like questions."

"Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam?"

"Yes he did."

"He didn't come see me," Taz lamented.

"He was busy, babe."

"So was I but I'd a made time for Walter."

Washington was a city of monuments. Union Station itself was right out of the last century. The waiting room was huge, and the ceiling must have been a hundred feet high, Taz thought, staring up into something that looked like a dome.

The green staff car was parked at the curb when they emerged from the train station. A major stood holding the rear door open for them.

"Oh, great, we've got officers in charge again," Taz said cynically, throwing a deliberate salute at the major, ignoring his smile.

"Sgt. Tazerski. I'm Major Costello. I'll be handling your affairs while you're in the Nation's Capitol. Welcome to Washington," he said with pride.

"Thanks. Kodak, Major Abbott," Taz couldn't resist getting in a jab.

His military manners had begun to erode.

"Costello," the major corrected in sharply aimed words. "You'd be Mr. Anderson?"

"Kodak," Kodak said warmly, giving a half salute that may have been a wave.

"Kodak takes care of all my… affairs. Give him the details and he'll make sure I'm ready when I'm supposed to be ready."

"We'll be taking you to the hotel first. I'll see to it your bags get to you right away, Sergeant. I've arranged for adjoining rooms. There is a 1 pm meeting with the general officers at Ft. Belvoir. I'm sorry about that. They're in the middle of a reorganization of the war effort. This is the time they had available. They feel obligated to receive you on your first day.

"You'll have lunch there. You will be meeting with Senator Dirksen late this afternoon. He may ask you to appear in front of his committee in the senate. Try to make a good impression. The man usually gets his way on military matters and we wouldn't want to anger the Senator."

"Lovely," Taz said, hanging on to the cloth strap that hung from the ceiling. "What do I call him?"

"Senator Dirksen. His name is Everett, but I wouldn't call him that unless he tells you to."

"Kodak, you remembering all this?"

"Mr. ah… Kodak won't be accompanying you to meet the Senator. He wants to speak to you, not the press."

"He's the one that keeps me on an even keel. I don't function well without him."

"You'll have to find a way, Sergeant. You're dealing with people who tell you the way it's going to be. I don't get much say in the matter. I've got the schedule and I suggest you memorize it."

"Yes, sir," Taz said without enthusiasm, taking several sheets of paper from the major and handing them to Kodak.

"You might want to rest up, get a shower, and I'll call you from the desk when we come back for you. You do have your uniforms ready?"

"Yeah, they're in my suitcase. I've got two that need attention. It sounds like I'm going to need them."

"Get them together and I'll send someone up to take them to be dry cleaned and pressed. Put your shoes outside the door. We'll get them shined. You know how the generals like their spit and polish.

"Oh, Gen. Walker is in town. He'll call you at the hotel to make arrangements to get together. He said I should take care of you. I'm not here to obstruct your routine, Sergeant. I'll be of whatever service I can be if you cooperate. If you don't, I don't have much to say about it. You are a celebrity and even the military is going to bend over backwards for you. Those are my orders and if you meet me just a little bit of the way, I'll make it as easy on you as I can. Tell me what you want and I'll take care of it if it isn't in conflict with my orders."

"Thank you, Major…Costello. I appreciate it. Kodak does take care of the details. I can't find my ass with both hands. Once he points me in the right direction, I do okay."

"Very good. I'll run everything past Mr. Kodak if you like. He can take it from there. You've got to stay on schedule, but don't expect anyone else to be on schedule. This is Washington. Hurry up and wait. You'll recognize the syndrome. Just smile and be polite and you'll be fine."

"Yes, sir, I recognize that," Taz said, as they turned onto Pennsylvania Avenue passing close to the Capitol Building.

All eyes turned to see its majesty.

The hotel was up toward the White House, and Major Costello got out with them as the staff car sat at the front entrance. Once inside, the major got the keys for the two rooms and escorted the boys until he had opened both doors. There was a door that opened between the two rooms, where the boys met.

The boys settled into what was going to be a long stay. When you live on the road, it wears you down. They checked the beds for comfort and Taz sat reading the menu, already planning his in between meal meals. If there was anything he'd learned, it was don't eat the rubber chicken.

Taz barely had time for a shower before going to his first meeting. They'd arrived in DC shortly after dawn and it was going to be a long day. Gen. Walker wasn't at the meeting at Fort Belvoir. It was another meeting over cigars and drinks. Taz was a war hero and deserving of first class treatment. While generals maintain a certain remoteness from their enlisted men, they couldn't hide their enthusiasm over meeting Taz.

No questions were asked that he hadn't answered a hundred times before. There was nothing original, no pointed questions, and nothing to keep Taz from yawning into his hand often.

There would be a dinner in his honor. All the wives would be there. He should ask his photographer, Kodak, to attend. It would be catered and require formal attire, so the wives had a reason to get into their best dresses, bought new for the occasion.

Kodak was always a welcome addition. Especially the wives gravitated to him, having plenty of soldiers already in their lives. A journalist whose picture appeared on the cover of Time was a novelty. Kodak handled wives well with his charm and intellect. He'd learned to think fast and curb his irreverent humor in officers' country.

Taz was full of ginger ale after the first meeting and had to pee before he could meet the major for his trip to Capitol Hill.

"Be polite. Be brief and respectful when answering Sen. Dirksen's questions. He is a powerful man, so you might want to curb your humor. Make sure he knows I control your schedule. I'll be out here waiting for you to finish. He may want you to do a dinner with him and a few hundred of his closest friends," Major Costello advised. "I've made sure you have a few evenings free, so clear anything he asks you to do through me."

"Yes, sir. Where's Gen. Walker?" Taz asked as he waited to be summoned by the senator.

"He's meeting with the Joint Chiefs today. He'll probably be at the Pentagon all day if not all week. He may leave a message for you. He's staying with friends in Chevy Chase. Make sure he checks with me before planning anything with you. I can't stress this enough. We don't want to upset anyone by over-scheduling you."

Ten minutes passed before Taz was escorted into the senator's office. About the time he was getting comfortable, the senator was called to the senate floor for a vote.

Major Costello drove with Taz back to the hotel to end his official duties that day. When Taz entered his room he found Kodak asleep on his bed.

"How'd it go?" Kodak asked, as he heard the door close.

"Too much ginger ale. I got to pee. It was more of the same. Dirksen had to go vote and I got off easy. He spent a lot of time thinking about my answers to his questions. He mostly asked about our touring the country. He's got this weird voice."

The first day's business was done and Kodak ordered club sandwiches as Taz showered. Major Costello called to confirm the next day's schedule. None of the governmental or military events required Kodak.

"I guess I'll stay here and watch soap operas," Kodak said, chewing on his sandwich.

"You can come with me to the Pentagon. We'll hold hands and I'll bring my peace symbol."

"That'll impress the officers," Kodak said. "No, I'm not in the military."

"I'm not much without you, babe. I'm not ashamed of it. If they ask me, I'll tell them."

"We've got a good gig and you might be able to convince them that Walter is right," Kodak said.

"Is he?" Taz asked.

They ate and watched WTOP which led to the evening news with Walter Cronkite. There were two stories on Vietnam. They were both about the Vietnamese. Taz changed the channels until he stumbled onto 'The Andy Griffith Show.'

The phone rang.

"Sgt. Tazerski. What's up, doc?"

"Yes, sir. Thank you. Do I know you? Mr. Bradley? No, don't ring no bell. Oh, you want Kodak? Tell him you're the editor of the Washington Post? Why didn't you say so? I'll go get him for you," Taz said, handing the phone to Kodak, who lay on the bed beside him.

Kodak jumped up in a flash, going all the way around the bed to take the phone.

"Hello, this is Paul Anderson. Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I sure will. I'll ask him. Thank you very much. I'll be there. What do I wear?"

Kodak hung up the phone with a far away look in his eyes.

"What's up, doc?"

"That was the editor of the Washington Post. Margaret Graham, the owner, wants me at her dinner party Wednesday night. You're invited."

"Oh, I am. I've never met an editor before. I don't think I've ever met anyone who owned anything either. Maybe there will be some silver we can steal."

"Don't be silly. You're the star of this show."

"Not that show. Those are paper people. You're a paper person. You're the star of their show. I'd stand out like a sore thumb."

"My love, you stand out like the man you are, and wherever I goeth, you goeth also."

"Mr. Anderson. May I speak to Mr. Anderson," Taz imitated in a deeper voice than his own. "I almost told him he had the wrong room. You know that dude?"

"I don't know anyone, Taz. I went from my freshman year at Berkeley to Vietnam. That's all my newspaper experience besides journalism courses."

"You had newspaper guys fussing with you in Honolulu, LA, Seattle, as I recall."

"I took a picture they've all seen. The picture is of you, babe. You're still the star."

"You got all the talent in this family. I'm good at shooting stuff. I bet there ain't even anyone worth shooting at that kind of an affair."

"You going to come with me? Please. I'm already tired of being away from you, and it's only been for one afternoon."

"Yes, if Major Costello don't come up with some other thing for me to be doing. I don't exactly get much say in the matter."

"You don't really wear that peace symbol when we go out do you?" Kodak asked, looking at the symbol hanging down on his bare chest.

"Yes, I wear it under my T-shirt. It's neat. It makes me feel peaceful. I haven't wanted to shoot anyone all day."

"You could get hit by a bus. You never know what can happen while you're out there roaming around. How would it look if it was discovered America's war hero wears a peace symbol?"

"It might look like because I fought a war don't mean I liked it."

"Hope this room isn't bugged. You're a regular left winger. You seemed so normal this morning," Kodak observed with a smile.

"Yeah, times they are a changing, babe. I'm not even twenty yet, Kodak. I've gone to war and I've killed folks. How am I suppose to feel about that?"

"I don't know. I never gave it a thought."

"This peace symbol puts things into perspective. I believe in peace. I'm willing to fight for it."

"You're something, my love. I saw you fight. You're amazing. The idea you didn't like it is the most amazing part. It helps me to understand you, Why you were so distant."

"It does? Maybe you'll explain me to me one day. I'll get you to read me what you write in those notebooks."

"That's our future, babe," Kodak assured him.

"How's that?"

"Once all this is craziness is over and no one cares who we are, I'll publish the book that tells the story from beginning to end."

"You aren't going to tell anyone I wear a peace symbol?"

"I'm going to tell everyone."

"Good," Taz said with a smile. "That's cool."

"I want to let them know what a sweetheart you are."

"Maybe you ought to leave that part out. The idea of being in Leavenworth for the next ten years doesn't sound all that hot."

"You are a good person, Tazerski. I want everyone to know you're more than a uniform and a big rifle."

"Yes, I am."

"You're a wonderful guy, Tazerski."

"Yes, I am, aren't I? Damn lucky I let you hang around me, huh?"

"Yes, it is," Kodak agreed, as he leaned to kiss Taz on the cheek. "Just the same, don't let the Pentagon types get a gander of your peace symbol."

"Kodak, you're the only one who can get my clothes off in the daytime. I don't plan to be doing no stripping for the Joint Chiefs. I'm not that kind of a boy."

Kodak scooted down on Taz's side of the bed, cuddling up close to his friend.

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