The Gulf and The Cove

by Rick Beck

Chapter 15

Burning Embers

"I'm curious about the hippies," I said. "They're the ones we know least about. They were there for the years the war raged. What we heard was to discredit them. They were dirty, lazy, disloyal spoiled brats and communist dupes. A significant part of a generation left their middle class neighborhoods, not to mention middle class schools. For What? As quick as the war was ending, the war protests stop and the hippies disappear from the news and from history. It's like they were out on a lark and they went home," I said. "Surely there was more to them than we were told. When is the last time we saw kids, minor children, gather together in protest of something. When we were growing up, we were told to sit down and shut up. No one gave a damn what we had to say. Not in public anyway. Children were to be seen and not heard, and seen as seldom as possible. What made these kids go on the road."

"It's easy maintaining anger with a couple of hundred body bags coming home each week. Those were America's best and brightest dying ten thousand miles from home in some Vietnamese peasant's rice paddy. Just how did that protect America?" Ivan said. "Each body bag contained a boy who everyone knew. He answered his country's call and went to fight that war. He was in some cases the father of a child he'd never seen, the son who looked like grandpa and could hit a baseball a country mile on the high school baseball team. He was the brother his siblings looked up to and depended upon. Each of those boys had family, friends, and schools they'd only left a few months before. When enough of those boys die, and their people wait helplessly by for their return home, it builds anger and resentment. The best people they've known die over there. The captain of the football team, the champion debater, the boy who won second place at last years state science fair, are lost."

"So they were dirty and smelly because they were involved in a dirty business," I said. "Who were they? What was their story?"

Ivan sipped his soda and listened to every word until I was done. He had that long stare as if he was seeing something he would try to describe. It took a minute for him to compose his thoughts.

Dylan sat forward on our wicker chair, looking at his father's face for some sign of what he might say.

"The first time I went to California was a trip. I ended up hitchhiking with two young hippies, sixteen or seventeen. We ended up on the same freeway ramp together. We were all going to Seattle. What were the odds of that on highway 101? It was Mike and Kevin. Mike was such a loser he was a concert pianist. Kevin was sixteen and he was a typical teenager. Lots of big ideas no way to do any of it, but hey, they wanted to hitch with me because I looked older," Ivan said. "They were scared and I was an old pro by then," Ivan said. "A kid who played piano in front of an auditorium full of people was afraid to be alone, looking vulnerable, on the side of the highway."

"We got a couple of rides and we stayed together. Once we were let out in San Francisco, we all wanted to see the Golden Gate Bridge, Mike led us on a two mile trek that had me wondering if he knew where he was going. We turned onto a big wide wide boulevard and there it was dead ahead of us. Its orange spires visible above the city that grew up around the bridge," Ivan said. "I'll never forget it."

"Before we knew it, we were walking across the Golden Gate Bridge, looking down at San Francisco Bay, back at the shrinking city by the bay that was behind us on our right. Looking to the left was a view of the Pacific Ocean. It was difficult not looking back at the city. It was amazing that it grew up right next to the Pacific Ocean. Big ships sailed under that bridge every day. Some bring in goods for the nation and some carry shiploads out of the bay and toward Asia and South America. That bridge was connected to those activities. Once we were on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, we were in rural California. Trees blocked the view of the Pacific as we went north. We weren't sure how far away the ocean was as we went farther and farther into the countryside," he said.

"Mike talked a lot. He was a smart kid. Kevin didn't have much to say. We got a ride and our proximity to the geography of California was lost to a high speed dash up Route 101. Where we got out was maybe a hundred miles up the road. I couldn't be sure because I fell asleep once we began moving. We'd been walking for hours and we'd been on the road all day.

Where we got out, we walked off the overpass and down the ramp to get back on highway 101. It was pitch black walking down that freeway ramp but we could hear voices. We stopped walking at the same time. 'Did you hear that?' I asked. 'Yea,' Mike said."

"'Come on down,' a voice in the dark invited us. We did so cautiously. It paid to be careful when confronting voices in the dark.

'Hey brothers, peace,' the oldest and biggest boy said. 'Peace,' we said. 'This is Jim, Roamer, Rocker, and I'm Dutch.' We introduced ourselves. I talked to Dutch as Mike and Kevin talked to the other boys. There was no aggression or posturing in the entire gathering. In the time it took to walk down a freeway ramp, we went from three of us to seven of us. The universal thought among us was, we weren't getting a ride that night. 'We've been here for a half hour and the car that let you out is the first car we've seen,' Dutch said."

"'I've got some bread and crackers,' Dutch said, doing an inventory. 'I've got the bologna we bought,' Roamer said. 'I have cheese and mustard,' Jim said. 'Lots of mustard.' There was laughter. 'I've got two apples, a sad looking banana, and a nearly perfect peach,' Rocker said. 'I've got two big Snickers bars,' Kevin said. 'I've got salami and cheese," Mike said. 'I've got rye bread and chocolate chips cookies,' I said. 'A veritable feast,' Dutch said. 'Now lets get off the pike and find an out of the way place where we can spend the night.'"

"We walked and talked, walking toward the west using the overpass to cross Highway 101. There was a road going north and south a few hundred yards beyond the highway. We turned north because Seattle was in that direction," Ivan said.

Walking for ten or fifteen minutes, there was a driveway on the left. By unanimous consent, we started up the driveway. I could smell the ocean but there was hardly any light. The sky might have lightened somewhat but the clouds hung low as we walked into a clearing. If there was a house nearby, there was no light coming from it. There was no sign of life, no light, nothing to indicate anyone was there," Ivan said. "Dutch built a fire; a big fire."

"We sat watching Dutch as he dropped more and more wood on the fire. 'I hear water,' Roamer said, pointing directly west. 'The Pacific,' Dutch said. 'It's not far but I'm not walking out there to see if I can find it.'"

"Jim spread out a blanket and began putting the food he had on it. We followed his lead. The feast fed us in a way that satisfied everyone. There was plenty of light and heat coming from the fire. No one fussed. There was no argument about him getting more than I got. We ate, laughed, and watched the fire sending a billion burning embers into the night sky."

"Dutch played his guitar once he ate some food. There, in the middle of nowhere, we sang war protest songs. I more hummed along. I'd never been in a gathering like it. We were strangers. We were simply there because there was no other place to go. Strangers in the night, meeting on a freeway ramp, we were heading in the same direction but going nowhere until daylight. Now we did something we agreed upon. It made us part of the same mindset."

"I felt good. My legs ached. I was half asleep in the heat of the fire. I was three thousand miles from home. I didn't know where I'd be tomorrow night or if I'd eat or not, and I was glad to be there with those particular guys. We'd shared food, song, and brotherhood. We made that spot in the middle of nowhere our home for the night."

"The singing died away and Dutch strummed and hummed. It was pleasant and hypnotic. Just resting my bones made it all good.

Rocker found a bag of peanuts in his back pocket. He sprinkled a few peanuts in each held out hand. It was the last of the food and we made the most of it," Ivan said.

"While singing Where Have All The Flowers Gone, Roamer began to talk, Dutch strummed softly, looking for a sound he liked. 'My brother played the guitar, Dutch.' 'Good man,' Dutch said. 'He used to sing that song. Dutch sang. 'Roamer's brother sang this song, a long time passing,' and then he strummed. 'What was Roamer's brother's name, a long time ago,'" Ivan sang.

"'His name was Stan,' Roamer said, his voice sounding stronger. 'He played football in high school. He was a running back and could he run,' Roamer said. 'Stan was a running back and man, could that boy run,' Dutch sang. 'He was cool. He took me horseback riding with him and a buddy who had a grandfather with a horse farm. It was so beautiful. The grass was greener than green. One year he was on the high school football team, I was a little squirt in those days. He took me to practice with him. He introduced me to the other players and his coach. He carried me on his shoulders as he showed me around. He was strong. Everyone liked him. He called me squirt. I was small until I got to high school last year. Stan always said, 'Don't worry, squirt. You'll grow. You'll be bigger than me one day. As brothers go, Stan was the pick of the litter. I loved nothing more than tagging along with him. My life would have been a drag without Stan," Roamer said, his words faded off into the night."

"Dutch picked up on it first. He stopped strumming to listen. There was no more lyrics in Roamer's words. It got eerily quiet. After the last phrase tailed off, no one spoke. Dutch's fire would burn all night. It crackled and sparks traveled up into the darkness," Ivan said. "We stared into the flames. It had been a long day."

"I was weary. That's when Dutch let us in on what he'd discovered in Roamer's words. 'He died over there.' Dutch said soulfully."

"'He died over there.' Roamer choked out his words. His pain still raw. 'And I became a roamer.'"

"There was nothing left to say. I fell asleep dreaming about Roamer's big brother carrying him on his shoulders as he scored a touchdown and now his brother was one of the honored dead."

"I'd never had an experience like that one. My opinion of hippies changed that night, if i had an opinion. I no longer saw them as lost children in search of themselves. They were the avant-garde forerunners for an era of peace and love they intended to forge out of the war and the dying," Ivan said, his words fading into the darkness.

I imagined we were as quiet as those boys were that night long ago in California. War was sad and it only became worse when you knew the names of the dead.

Moments relived from thousands of miles from home when strangers shared brotherhood on a remote California highway.

Why couldn't people live their lives in peace? I was grateful we came to Florida. It was remarkable how peacefully we lived.

It was a couple of nights later. We were late getting to Ivan's deck, after three rounds of Goofy Golf, and by that time we were in the mood for a Ledo's extra large super deluxe fifteen topping pizza. We ate it there because it was too heavy to take out. Thus our arrival on Ivan's deck took more time than usual.

I always seemed to be stuffed once we sat there with a bird's eye view of our world. We were ready for the next episode of Ivan's tale. Tonight's episode was where the rubber hit the road. After Dutch and Roamer, I was ready to move on. The hippies were gone from our consciousness and the war over there had ended.

Sipping soda and looking out into a sky full of stars, a view I'd had a thousand times, we became part of the night. I Lost the sense of being tethered to the earth, while being serenaded by frogs and crickets, creatures of the night. It was our window on the universe with its vastness beyond the human ability to comprehend.

"Where do we start tonight, Dylan?" Ivan asked.

"It's sad that people wanting to live in peace, like Roamer, are the enemy of our government. Shouldn't we be strive to live together peacefully?"

"There is nothing wrong with that but there are a lot people who don't feel that way. It doesn't make what they value more important than what we value," I said. "They simply seem to be the people who want to run things, so peace may not be what they value."

"I hear about the wars, peace with honor in Vietnam, and our glorious past. Nowhere do they tell us what happens during a war or how wars are paid for," Dylan said. "People making money off of war, shouldn't they pay for the war? Shouldn't they fight the war?"

"People in polite society don't want to talk about war. They promote it and support it but they don't want to see it. Cashing dividend checks and buying more stuff is much more fun," I said.

"How'd these turkeys get in charge? I've read about Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Lincoln. They fought to be free of oppression. They fought to rid themselves of tyrants," Dylan said.

"People are easy to deceive. They're busy trying to get enough food for their families and keep a roof over their head. Most of them aren't paying attention to the politicians. They vote, hold a job, and want a a good life," Ivan said. "Bad people take advantage of that to carve out a piece of the pie for themselves and their supporters."

"I suppose I have no room to talk. I work on a research vessel worth a half million dollars. I have a floating laboratory and another one on a beach," I said.

"Clay, you drive a 56 Chevy," Ivan said. "Hardly materialistic."

"See. How many people can afford to drive a classic car?" I said.

"Name something you've bought for yourself that isn't work related since I've been home," Ivan said.

"Besides Goofy Golf, Pizza, and gas for my car, I recently took my son to Disney world. That was money spent on ourselves," I said.

"You were ordered to go to Disney World. You don't buy anything. Hardly materialistic from where I sit."

"I have everything I need. I don't think about buying stuff. We're not here to discuss lifestyles of marine biologists."

"No, I suppose not. I learned as much as I could from Boris' buddies and the men who were with him when he was wounded. It took a long time to get the stories," Ivan said. "In my fourth year on the road I wasn't getting any new details. I decided to go to the West Coast. It's where it was happening and it was a lot closer to Vietnam than Florida. It was time to figure out how to get to Vietnam."

"By 1972 I knew the players and I'd learned the game. I had no idea how i would get into Vietnam. Once there, I had a good idea where to go. Once on that battlefield, I'd sense Boris. Being there would give me some idea of which way Boris went," Ivan said. "I was a long way from Vietnam."

"Enter Cousin Carl," Ivan said.

"Your cousin?" Dylan asked.

"They called him Cousin Carl. He was everyone's cousin. He came with a friendly smile and an easy going style you couldn't miss. I didn't miss it. I stopped at a light on 4th in downtown Seattle. Cousin Carl stopped next to me with a half dozen other pedestrians waiting for the light."

"'Where you from, cousin?' Cousin Carl asked."

"He was looking straight at me and I said, 'Florida.'"

"The light changed and we were moving down hill on 4th.

"'What's a Florida boy doing in Seattle? It's a long way to Florida from here,' he said," Ivan said.

"'I'm searching for my brother,' I told him."

"'I'm Cousin Carl. I'm maybe a hoot and a holler from downtown Amarillo,' he said, " Ivan said. "'I'm Ivan from southwest Florida on the Gulf of Mexico.'"

"Cousin Carl was a curious guy. 'Where'd you lose him, Ivan from Florida?' I pegged Carl for a soldier right off. He stood like a soldier. His hair was shorter than short. Military style. 'It's a long story,' I told him."

"'There's a coffee house on 3rd, a couple of blocks down. I'll buy you a cup of coffee and you can tell me about your brother. The lunch crowd will be winding down. I go there every afternoon at this time. The coffee would make a wrangler proud. It's strong and flavorful. Reminds me of home.'"

"I was a curious guy too and Cousin Carl wasn't from Seattle either. I don't recall meeting anyone who was from Seattle. I met a lot of people going there. His black cowboy boots and Texas swagger gave him away. He walked ahead and I followed him to a coffee shop," Ivan said.

"Carl bought me a cup of coffee and an English muffin. You could pick what you wanted on the muffin. I liked mine well done with butter. We took a table in the rear. There were a lot of people sipping coffee and sitting in front of dirty dishes. People in Seattle must take long lunches, I thought. It was nearly two. No one was in a hurry."

"'What is a Florida boy doing in Seattle looking for his brother?' Carl asked," Ivan said. "I started to tell him an abbreviated version of the story. I figured it would bore him silly. Two cups of coffee later, along with a second English muffin, he was still listening. Once I brought him up to date, it was going on five. When I stopped talking, he sipped coffee for a while. I sipped coffee too. The place was nearly empty. He looked at me across the table. I could see the wheels turning. Then Cousin Carl began to talk. 'I'm deserting. I came home on emergency leave. I'm due back at SeaTac to fly out Friday. I'm supposed to go back over there. I'm not going. I've had enough of Vietnam. I'm in touch with people,' he said, looking around cautiously. 'People who are in the business of helping men like me disappear. These are smart people, Ivan. I can ask if they'll talk to you. See if they can help you out, if you want help.'"

Ivan sipped soda and collected his thoughts.

"'Why did you talk to me? What made you say something to me,' I asked him. 'I don't know. I just had a feeling. You looked like a guy who knew where he was going. Truth is, I don't know where I'm going. They sent me here to grow my hair and keep a low profile. Come Friday, I'm a deserter. There's a house where I stay. Some sympathetic folks there. Hippie cats crash there. It's cool but they've got their thing going and I'm just growing my hair, you understand. I'm not part of anything. You looked like you had a story to tell and I had nothing to do. Maybe we can help each other.' he said, draining his coffee cup. 'When my hair is longer and I don't look like a guy that belongs on a military post, they'll send me to some people that will get me a new identity. I'll take a ride to Canada,' Carl said, looking around. 'I'm going to Berkeley. Come on, I'll show you where I stay. You look harmless. If you need a place, I think you'll fit in there.'"

"We walked out into a cloudy cool afternoon. It had rained. Carl wasn't done talking but we were on the move. We walked east at a brisk pace," Ivan said. "I waited for him to explain. He hadn't finish his story and we turned back on 4th. I don't recall a meeting like that one. Carl and I were immediately on the same wavelength."

"'I get paranoid talking about this shit. Berkeley, California, it's the University of California, Berkeley. That's where I'll find the anti war machinery. They can make Pvt. Carl Cousins disappear.,' Carl said, leaning his head close to mine as he spoke and we walked."

"'You stick with me, I'll tell them your story. I'm sure they'll have some ideas on how you might get to Vietnam. They're involved with getting guys out, surely they can get a guy into Southeast Asia. If you've got the time, all I'm doing is letting my hair grow. We can hang out and hitch to Berkeley together when it's time.'"

"I had nothing but time. I'd never met anyone as compelling as Cousin Carl and he might help me get into Southeast Asia. That was quite a bonus coming out of a meeting on a corner in Seattle."

I cleared my throat.

"Except for your daddy, I hadn't met anyone as compelling," Ivan said, hardly missing a beat.

Dylan laughed.

"He took me back to where he was staying. Before we got too far into the house a girl came out of the kitchen with a plate of food in each hand. She shoved them at us. 'Hey, Cousin Carl. Who's your friend? Is your hair growing yet? It looks shorter today than it was yesterday. You've got to apply yourself, Cousin. Concentrate. I'm Tish.' I told her I was Ivan and I thanked her for the food. He's my new cousin, Tish.' She laughed. 'List of chores on the fridge. Pick what you want to do and mark it off once you're done doing it. Enjoy your dinner,' she said, heading back into the kitchen and coming out with two more plates of food she handed out to two other people sitting nearby. She mentioned the chores again,'" Ivan said.

"I couldn't identify some of what I was eating but it didn't move and it wasn't bad, different, you know, but good. It wasn't like Mama's home cooking, but I'd been traveling long enough to know I didn't turn down a chance to eat. I took out the trash from the can in the kitchen. Carl swept the back porch and then the front porch. We picked up some candy wrappers in the front yard," Ivan said. "And that's how I found a friend and a place to stay in Seattle. In my first week there I went up on the university's lawn to sleep. It was a block from the U., where the action was. My new home was a mile east of the U."

"I'd heard Berkeley was where it was happening. Carl seemed sure it was where he needed to go and it might be where I could get some information about getting into Southeast Asia."

"Cousin Carl took me inside the peace movement. In the meantime, while his hair grew, we traveled together in Seattle, a fresh friendly city with a bookmark you couldn't miss, Mount Rainier furnished the backdrop for a hustling bustling city."

"Carl was on good terms with the military types. They wore khakis mixed with camo jackets and shirts with military patches and insignia removed. These men made it clear, 'I'm against no soldier. I'm against this God damn war.' They had been over there and earned the right to speak out. These soldiers made it home but a lot of good men they knew were never coming home. Now they marched to stop the killing," Ivan said. "Whenever misguided people decided to hassle a man in uniform, a former soldier stepped up to correct their perception. A soldier in Vietnam could either fight or die. There was no choice. You did what you were ordered to do."

"More soda anyone?" I said, ready to take a break.

I headed for the kitchen and I brought back a bag of Chee-tos with the soda.

"So some guys who were in the army over there, were in the peace march over here?" Dylan asked.

"Yes, they wore parts of their uniforms so they could identify each other. During a march they marched together and they were usually near the front. They were due a respect no one else had earned. The harassment of soldiers wasn't part of the peace movement. Everyone I met, nearly everyone, hated that war. Once I was with Carl, we stayed close to the veterans from Vietnam. They were real people. I wanted to hear what they had to say. Most didn't want to talk about it, which was OK too," Ivan said.

"Keeping company with Carl was a trip. He'd talk to anyone. 'Bold as brass,' my mother would call him. Boris was something like Carl. Maybe that's why I liked him. One day Cousin Carl came back from one of his scouting missions. I think he was seeing a girlfriend," Ivan said. "It's the only thing he never talked about and I didn't ask."

"Or a boy friend," I said not as sold on Carl as Ivan was.

"Could have been. It's the only time he went out without me," Ivan said.

"You don't lack exercise when you're trying to keep up with Cousin Carl. We walked all over Seattle. Once on 3rd Avenue we turned into the coffee house. I followed Carl to a table in the rear. A business type dude was seated at the table. His briefcase was open in front of him. We sat down. He looked up before signaling the waiter. He order three cups of coffees," Ivan said.

"'This is the guy I told you about. He's Ivan,' Carl said. 'I'm the Pharaoh,' he said. I wasn't ready for what seemed like a secret meeting in plain view of everyone. I played along," Ivan said. "I think I did. What do you say to a guy who wants you to call him Pharaoh?"

"I'll go out on a limb. Maybe call him Pharaoh?" I said.

Dylan laughed.

"Don't forget, they laughed at me when I said I was going to get my brother," Ivan said.

"'Carl told me about your quest.' Pharaoh says. 'I think I can help you. Give me the abbreviated version in your own words. If I feel it has merit, I'll take it to my people. I have about an hour. You may start now if you like.'"

"Needless to say I was a bit surprised. I'd known Carl for a couple of months. He didn't say he talked to anyone but the subject hadn't come up until that afternoon. I didn't mentioned Boris after I told Car my story. I now found myself explaining Boris to a man who could have been a member of the Fortune 500 for all I knew. I told him about how Boris became MIA. I told him about my interviews. I told him that Boris was alive. I didn't go into how I came to the conclusion. I mentioned the sergeant and the lieutenant and the conclusions the two of them reached about Boris. Nothing I'd done or heard convinced me I was on a wild goose chase," Ivan said.

"I told him it was time for me to find a way into Southeast Asia and eventually Vietnam," Ivan said. "He sat through the entire story and didn't drink any coffee until I finished."

"Pharaoh said, 'Extraordinary.' He slid a pad of paper he'd been writing on over to me. His very nice pen was on top. 'Your brother's name. military serial Number, rank at the time he went MIA, the date he entered the military, his legal address, your full name and home address, and names of any other brothers or sisters,' he said," Ivan said.

"I jotted the information down from memory. I'd gone over it each time I met a new soldier. It took two or three minutes before I slid the pad and pen back to him. For the first time he smiled and nodded approval, putting the pad in the briefcase and his pen went inside the jacket of what looked like a very expensive suit coat. He stood, removing his wallet from the inside jacket pocket, he dropped a ten dollar bill on the table. 'Get something you like on Pharaoh. Gentlemen, I've got one piece of advice for both of you. Let your hair grow. You both look like refugees from a military parade. Carl, loose those shit kickers. Get a nice pair of cheap sneakers,' he said, leaving us with our thoughts," Ivan said.

I was thrown off balance by the meeting. It came out of the blue. Carl didn't tell me I was meeting the man in Seattle who got things done in the movement there.

It was brief and I was left with the impression that Pharaoh intended to help me.

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