McCain Shits the Bed.....
I was just now in the middle of emailing some of my very best friends.....Bennie, Horace, Peyton....about literature. Well..... about literature......about the Vietnam War. One of my brother Rob's authors, Denis Johnson, has just written a new novel, "Tree of Smoke" about Vietnam.
Denis previously wrote "Already Dead" (Rob edited) and "Jesus' Son". "Already Dead" makes the gills of any of us fish in the California school glow purple, but nobody else read it.
"Jesus' Son" was a great book, and a great movie. All you ever need to know about heroin. And Middle America.
I don't know if Rob edited that one.
Denis came out of the U. of Iowa writing project....where my friend Harriet Clarke is now ensconced. I am not sure the Iowa Chamber of Commerce is still down with Denis.....
Or Harriet, by now.......
Anyway, Denis has written a great novel.....and possibly a great Vietnam novel. The writing is exacting, poetic, detailed, and trippy all at the same time. As a book whore who can read a 600 page novel in four hours, this one has stopped me in my tracks. I need to savour every word.
While I was emailing my Vietnam era friends to see if I have any grip at all on the reality of Vietnam......on comes the news that John McCain.....the Tough Talk Guy With Balls Of Steel Who Endured Years of Torture Who Doesn't Give A Fuck What You Think.......just voted for Waterboarding, aka Torture.
So, a guy who was tortured for years, who has consistently voted against torturing other folks for years.....mostly because it doesn't work, and puts our fighters in harm's way for needless pain and suffering.....just voted to make it OK.
McCain shit the bed.
So....with no intention at all of diluting the discourse....I have to admit something personal and embarrassing.
I have been waterboarded.
It sucked.....but it wasn't that bad.
I was a pledge at Sigma Chi at Cornell in the late Sixties. I was a soccer player, and Sigma Chi was a jock house. They had hockey guys (my Senior Advisor was Ken Dryden....and if you don't know who Ken Dryden is......fuck you for an ignorant fuck). Sigma Chi, one of the original three fraternities created at the beginning (The Miami Triad) had decided to branch out into Other Sports.....like Lacrosse and Soccer.
The poor fucks had no idea that soccer and lacrosse are not sports in the normal American sense of the word. Both sports require independent personal responsibility, and wide-ranging random sensibility in a group context....and draws mostly whack-job ADD ADHD kids with no understanding of pain and no recognition of authority as anything real and important.
So...they sought to rectify the situation, and bring us into the fold.
We slept in rooms with no windows.....in Ithaca, in the winter. It was often well below zero, and never above freezing. We did menial jobs......below zero.....all the while trying to handle a Division I sports schedule with an Ivy League academic schedule. Not to mention the Sigma Chi social schedule.
We were roused from our beds in the middle of the night to drive to Keuka College to sing the "Sweetheart of Sigma Chi" to the Sweetheart:
"When the world goes wrong as it's bound to do.....
An you've broken Dan Cupid's bow....
"And you long for the girl you used to love....
The maid of the long ago........
Why light your pipe, bid sorrow avaunt...
Blow the smoke from your altar of dreams....
And wreathe the face of your dream girl there.......
The girl that is just what she seems....
The blue of her eyes and the gold of her hair....."
You get the picture.
Previous classes had been blindfolded, stood on the parapet of the bridge over Cascadilla Gorge.....a 500 foot drop....and spun around. They were then told to jump forward. Do you trust your Brothers? Not everyone did.....and not everyone got caught before they fell the 500 feet if they guessed wrong.
Waterboarding was another thing. You are strapped to a table, turned upside down, with a towel over your face....and they dump water...or beer on the towel. You can't breathe, and feel like you are drowning.
But you are not. The guy is charge is from Rocky River, Ohio....and Daddy is on the Board of Bank One. He will only kill you by accident......but he is a baseball player, so anything is possible. Even before Michael Jackson, we soccer folk recognized something perverse in the whole One Glove Thing........
As a person who can't swim, and has spent his entire life in water drowning....this was not a new thing....drowning. Eventually, I discovered SCUBA and PADI...where you can breathe under water...and I became a Rescue Diver.
The Waterboarding/Drowning Thing did not impress me as much as I was terrified by the prospect of the Cascadilla Gorge Blindfold Jump Thing.
And.......The Horrible Torture Thing that scarred us for life?
They had a Pledge Brunch with the DG's. Delta Gamma. The richest, blondest, most brutal sorority on campus. (I paid my college expenses by owning the vending machines in the basement of DG, and later bonded with my first wife and mother of my children hiding from the police behind the DG vending machines, but that is another story.......)
At Cornell in 1967, there was no possibility that any woman of one's own age would ever even speak to one......they were the property of upper classmen. We all fought over high-school girls....if that. We were thrilled to have brunch and be allowed to converse with these rock-stars.
Chocolate Mousse was served. We ate it all. A Country band played, and there was a hayride, just the DG and Sigma Chi pledges.
When the haytruck was deep in the country, the upperclassmen pulled out a list, and handcuffed each of the DG pledges to one of the Sigma Chi pledges. We were booted from the truck, left by the road, and the truck drove off. We were each given a roll of toilet paper, which was puzzling at first.
We all started to trudge back through the Ithaca farm fall golden countryside.....embarrassingly attached each of us to our own supermodel babe rich girl.
And then it started to hit.....
The chocolate mousse was actually Ex-Lax Mousse.
This was long before the Sexual Revolution. This was before any kind of Revolution.....Two years before Woodstock.
It was not cool.
I can describe in detail the experience of being waterboarded.....or, actually....being beer-boarded. But I cannot describe in any way the experience of being chained to a gorgeous, completely spoiled and viciously repressed 18 year old princess in the throes of abdominal agony.....
Then there was me......
In "Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up To Me" Richard Farina describes a famous local motel, Ma Snyders...where Ma did not ask for marriage licenses. The big room...the Honeymoon Suite.....had a toilet and bidet in the middle of the floor in the middle of the room. This had been my previously most embarrassing moment....having to piss in front of my girlfriend.
How times have changed.
The Brunch of the Ex-Lax eventually worked its way out....so to speak. We shit, we wiped, we helped each other. None of us ever spoke of it again......even until this day. I saw the DG's from my pledge class when I was filling my machines in the coming years in the basement.....and we always looked away, shamed somehow. The Upper-Classwomen who were part of it, I just stared down, got my money, and left.
I bailed on Sigma Chi....and spent the weekend of the Final Pledge experience with my high-school girlfriend....at Ma Snyder's.
I bailed on Sigma Chi....I went by there for the first time last fall, after 40 years. I have used the secret handshake and password from time to time to collect "professional" discounts from a podiatrist and a wine geek. If you are interested, I will show you the secret handshake.....
Of a completely dishonorable, fucked up and utterly disreputable bunch of sophomoric asswipes.
And waterboarding wasn't the worst of it.
It was realizing that at one point in my life I was almost willing to trade in my self respect for the promise of belonging to a group that could "take me to the top!"
John McCain underwent eight years of actual torture. His shoulders were dislocated under interrogation....not like mine, dislocated on the soccer field.
And years later, just today.......he decides to buckle, and endorse the casually degrading practice that the resistance of....defined his life.
Waterboarding is torture. Not as bad as being chained to a shitty blonde DG princess....but torture, nontheless.
You just shit the bed, buddy. You should have taken the early release because your Daddy was an admiral. You should have taken all those buyouts and payoffs you supposedly avoided. Being slightly dishonorable is like being slightly pregnant....or slightly dead.
The motto of Sigma Chi is "In Hoc Signes Vinco".
By this sign....I shall conquer.
I don't think so......