Thursday, February 16, 2012

Saigon: Too Big To Fall

Have I told you about the novel I'm writing? Called "Saigon: Too Big To Fall", it's a chronicling of the 2008+ financial meltdown, with the events playing out in Vietnam some 40 years earlier, as experienced by a long range recon unit assigned to the Securities and Exchange Commission. So there's some mixing and matching going on, but I think the strength of the premise is self-explanatory. And book is the wrong word. It's a series--one book for every financial explosion (Bear, Lehman, AIG, etc.)

I should define the word writing as beginning to put my thoughts on paper as a concept document. We're not even close to the actual writing. But still, a few glimpses:

First, in Vietnam the guy carrying the radio was called an RTO. In S2B2F its BTO. The B stands for Bloomberg. Second, there's this image rolling around in my brain of two squads from different units identifying eachother (always a tense moment) in the middle of the night. One guys says "We're from the SEC." The other guy says "We're from the PAC-10." Which makes me laugh even now. Third, Marianne Faithfull plays a significant role.

Anyway, it's still a bit of a jumble. But war is hell, so what do you expect.

All of which brings me to the most vivid dream I had last night. I know I had it because I got an email from myself, sent circa 3:40 am, with just a subject line. It read: "U go to meetings, don't u?" I remember this even now. It was a telephone conversation with somebody sinister. I assumed it referred to AA meetings (which I've never attended, not being, I don't think, an alcoholic), so I answered evasively. "Yeah, but it's mostly cosmetic."

What all this means is now completely lost on me, but at almost four in the morning I had a strong sense that this was meant to be in the book. I should have sent a better email.

Truth in publishing: My draft number was 303 and I never had to go. My brother went, though, and Vietnam has always stuck in the back of my mind. In fact, I've posted about it a number of times here on TYOMP. Perhaps the best example would be this:


Monday, December 3, 2007

The Majestic Hotel

Lets just say it's a certain point in time. If you poke your head out the front door of the Majestic Hotel, you can look one way up what the old-timers still call Rue Catinat and see the Notre Dame cathedral. Look the other way and you can see the west bank of the Saigon River.

If you go back inside, turn left at the main bar, right just before the kitchen, enter the men's room, take a seat in the second stall from the left wall, then swivel your head to the right, you can see, scrawled in the mahogany divider:
The abyss is full
of reality, the abyss experiences itself, the
is alive
Kurtz saw that. I know he did. That's what sent him upriver. The lure of the abyss. Not to get away from reality, but to find it. Anybody who thought Vietnam had anything to do with reality just didn't understand the situation. No. You had to go so far up the river that the trees connected overhead. That's where the reality was. Back in Saigon--that was something else entirely.

Later they sent my boy Johnny upriver to find Kurtz. That's where Coppola got it wrong, by the way. He didn't understand Johnny. He thought the whole thing was a metaphor. Kurtz ... The river ... Johnny. Man, that boy could sure eat some beets. And that's what Frankie never got--the whole vegetable thing. You'd eat some beets, then smear the rest on your face. If you happened also to have some blueberries, you were golden. Actually you weren't golden. You were red and blue.

Anyway, do you remember that song by John Prine--Lake Marie? I'll spare you the full details, but one verse goes like this:
You know what blood looks like in a black and white video?
Anyway, the abyss isn't a metaphor. It's the abyss.
Do you know what beet juice smeared on your face looks like in the middle of the jungle, in the middle of the night?
I mean, really. Is all I'm saying. Do I have to spell it out for you? Man, the abyss is alive. Everybody thinks that when you fall into the abyss it's empty. Cold. Dark. Dead.

Naaah. Couldn't be nicer. Me? I've taken the fall. Leap--make that taken the leap. Gathered both feet beneath me, made sure I could feel the mud scrunched up between my toes for maximum traction, and leaped. Lept. Leopt. I'm either a leper or a leopard--whichever one still has his nose attached. And the water's not cold; it's warm. And the river's not dark; you'd be surprised how much you can see. And dead? Naaah. Teeming with life. You want to soar beneath the surface, open your mouth, ingest it. Ingest all of it.

Of course, if you did that you'd drown. Which is not the object of the exercise.

Johnny's mistake was taking a boat. A fucking plastic boat. Me? I'm just swimming. Upriver. Huck fucking Finn in reverse. Some days the current is so strong you're swimming at what seems to be a great rate when, in fact, the river bank is slowly going by... the wrong way. These days, though, I'm pleased to announce, headway is being made. I see less of the sun. I'm seeing lots of green. I'm at one with the river. Which is good, 'cause if you're not, there's more damned things swimming around next to you that would like to bite or otherwise fuck with you than you can shake a stick at.

The snakes make the best eating. Once you get good at it; once you've mastered your gag reflex, you just grab 'em, bite their heads off, and then slide 'em down your throat. Don't even have to stop swimming. Shit 'em out about a day and a half later, bones and all, usually (for me at least) around what I assume to be ten thirty in the morning.

I think the Floating Men have it figured out just right.
I don't ever get lost anymore
I'm never falling behind
‘Cause I don't care where I wind up sleeping
And nobody notices what time I arrive
It feels like a Sunday morning out
I'm guessing it's June
Maybe that highway leads to paradise
Maybe it leads to the fountain of youth

I'm going to hire me a spotlight
And the finest crowd that money can buy
I'm going to build me a grandstand
And stand around staring down at the barren ground
Of this invisible life

I don't dream about wealth anymore
And I don't let myself dream about fame
And I refuse to dream about the poacher's daughter
Or the laughter at midnight in the mud and the rain
I've given up on ever joining the rodeo
But I'd still make one hell of a spy
I know I'll never be a Hollywood Romeo
I'm too easy to see through and so hard to find

It's a glorious world out here
And I'm a glorious man
And it's a glorious day to wait around for a tow truck
With both axles stuck in the sugar-white sand
It feels like a Sunday morning out
Hell, maybe it's noon
Maybe that highway leads to the ocean
And maybe it leads to the moon
I love how he says it feels like a Sunday morning and he's guessing it's June. The only difference between that boy and me is that I can't think of anything but the poacher's daughter.

To see her in sunlight... Manomanoman.

Same band, different song:
I'm nodding off
I'm getting full and lazy
Floating down the river in a second-hand canoe
I've got grapes and apples
I've got cheese and lemonade
Floating down the river staring off into the blue

I bet she wonders what I think of her now
I don't care what she thinks about me
Floating down the river half asleep

I've got my hat pulled down
I've got my toes in the water
Floating down the river getting drowsy from the heat
And I can close my eyes and see the poacher's daughter
Barefoot on a sandbar with a straw in her teeth

I bet she wonders what I think of her now
I don't care what she thinks about me
Floating down the river half asleep

I've got my hat pulled down
I've got my toes in the water
Floating down the river with a straw in my teeth
And I can close my eyes and see the poacher's daughter
Barefoot on a sandbar like she's waiting for me
I swear to God, these guys have got my number. Except the downriver part.

I'm going up. Huck fucking Finn in reverse.


This remains one of my favorite posts (if not only for the brief homage to my long-dead friend John Bailey), and it should give you a clear sense of what the book is gonna be like.


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