Selected Stories

“War Tourist” - Excerpt

Boulevard, Fall 2011

Gook was the best known, but slope, chuck, slant, and dink were popular too, according to Jamie’s friends. After he died and his friends came back when their time was up, they regularly gathered on Saturday afternoons at their childhood friend’s house and smoked pot with his mom. Jean had been a teenaged mother, and at forty she still fit into the small-size jeans she wore in high school. Many years later she believed that those Saturday afternoons where she was considered hip enough and young enough to be included in their youthful mourning, both for their fallen friend but also for their own destroyed youth, were the only thing that kept her from taking her own life.

She made large quantities of unfussy food, the kind that young men ate in quantity without thinking — huge pots of spaghetti and meatballs, casseroles, mac and cheese, and plates of tacos. When the despair was especially acute so that she didn’t make it out of bed till noon, she ordered in pizzas. There was always plenty of beer in the refrigerator (even though, ironically, some of the boys were still technically underage to drink it), so much beer that the liquor store clerk stopped saying, “Having a party?” when she came in for the fifth Friday in a row. Stoned, drunk, and heartbroken, Jean stared into the tender, unlined faces of her son’s friends and tried to guess what the experience of war had done to them in that place called “the Nam,” a dark place of constant threat and treachery and lack of return. The death report said Jamie had died in a place with the poetic name, Plain of Reeds. Amongst themselves, the boys talked about traps and snares, Bouncing Betties, the perfidious South Vietnamese soldiers, and the doll-faced women with razors hidden in their snatches. Once they realized that nothing shocked Jean, they spoke freely in front of her, talked of street vendors conking out puppies to cook them, baggies of heroin for only a dollar, and child prostitutes who barely came up to their waists. Just right, they joked grimly, and Jean, dizzy with fright, agreed that she wouldn’t have cared if the whole place had been bombed back to the Stone Age, bulldozed flat and concreted over. She would trade the whole country to have her son back.