Halloween in the Jungle, 1969

--by Bohdan Sirant, 2011 Dedicated to Canadian veterans of the Vietnam War1 I’m helping out at my niece’s Halloween party Called an hour ago I’ve come just as I am Ordinary, and plainly dressed, in faded jeans, well-worn t-shirt, and patched denim vest enough of a costume for me my Saturday night special best Though I fail this party’s dress code And outrageousness test I’m amused by what I see a sexy witch in a side-slit skirt, A vampire, a robot, a female Mountie ruby-lipped, high-healed nun, Warlock, grim ghoul, leggy showgirl flirt a cowboy with holstered six-guns Fairy godmother with battery-powered wand jiggling tits, stretching gams, and swaying buns Cool cats wanting to get it on With a film noire femme fatale blonde Trying their luck with cheap clichéd come-ons Movers and shakers having their kind of fun telling tales out of school on the make like cool James Bonds standing by a scintillating pool a virtual shimmering forest pond amid lush tropical plants with gigantic variegated fronds and mementos of last summer at the lake nibbling on fancy hors d’oevres munching on burritos and spicy fajitas sipping jade-green Margaritas and eating frosted pumpkin cake I ask my niece to play Hendrix’ Machine Gun2 for me
1

Although exact numbers will never be known, several thousand Canadians joined the US Armed Forces to fight in Vietnam against the Communists. 2 Machine Gun by Jimi Hendrix debuted in September 1969. The Band of Gypsys performance is widely considered one of the greatest electric guitar virtuoso performances of all time. 1

I sit down and take stock and listen to the wailing air raid siren and staccato reverbing acid rock I sip from a mug of steaming Jasmine tea lie back and begin to get down when an eye-patched zombie a surgeon in a blood-splattered gown a boy from a heavy metal band and a flamboyant rodeo clown with spilling beer in hand come over and plop down on the emerald bamboo and silk divan Looking to me to have some fun “So Pops, what was Halloween like …when you were young?” First, listen to the music, To the descending riffs Can you hear battlefield sounds, Screams and cries of wounded stiffs? Wah-wah pedal and reverb mimic the wild screech and tone of clearing a landing zone? Moans and groans of the grieving, or sick? Explosions, machine gun bursts, rifle rounds machine and motor clicks? An SOS? A bird going down? Metallic buzz and noise or hum and din of other martial toys? Helicopter rotors whumping, diving planes droning, dropping bombs whistling? I sing along: “The same way you shoot me down, baby You'll be going just the same Three times the pain And your own self to blame” “So, do you really, really, really want to know?” “Yeah, sure, sir… we really, really, really want to know Lay it on us, old timer Lay it on”

2

Oh, well….this I know It was a hell of a lot creepier than this party and scarier than any Hollywood horror show I remember Halloween, 1969 in the boonies3 in Nam I had just got there Crossed the shining South China Sea Landing somewhere close to the DMZ4 and Laos Into a lost world Of military order and combat chaos A terra incognita Of blood, guts and excreta And unheeded ultimata5 Somewhere in the sticks6 By a blue line7 boundary By a godforsaken River Styx Near forgotten encrypted coordinates In atlases of grids, funnies and comics8 Where the Devil says goodnight Where Old Nick9 gets his kicks Where tricksters10 and windigos11 get their licks Like a strangely vacant space On a curled, ornate, and densely inked chart in the blurred black back of darkness of diabolical oblivion in that part of indifferent, uncaring, killers cold of fantastic fanged serpents coiled a vacant world beyond carelessly unfurled where cursed Conquistadors12 forever blunder, wheezing and gasping in the plumes of deadly smoke curled searching for elusive El Dorado’s13 gold
3 4

slang for boondocks, or isolated remote back country Demilitarized Zone separating North from South Vietnam 5 plural of ultimatum 6 slang for back country 7 A river 8 slang for maps 9 Satan, the Devil 10 a god, goddess, spirit, man, woman, or anthropomorphic animal who plays tricks. 11 in Algonquin folklore, a person who has been transformed into a monster by cannibalism 12 soldiers, explorers, and adventurers at the service of the Spanish Empire. 13 legendary "Lost City of Gold", thought to be in the Amazon jungle 3

where the vanquished, or sinners, are hurled off the jagged edge of the known world, where on a hand-drawn mariner’s map of old those strange regions are conspicuously marked: "Beware, for here be monsters bold" Like many other gungy volunteers in the Green Machine14 or Crotch15 I give a damn I carry the torch And swear to be gallant I’ve come to see the elephant16 true to my roots and true to my word to stem the Red Tide17 but from the very first attack end up fighting for my life and the lives of my buddies now they watch my back The simple law of the jungle18 by which we abide: “For strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack" I jump off the bird ready to roll ready to ride ready to float ready to slide ready to glide into that eerie space veiled in grey drizzle, spectral mists steaming rains and cool morning fogs where men disappear without a trace Just then a squad of supergrunts19 boards along with their silent war dogs singing boisterously an Animals’ refrain20: “We gotta get out of this place!
14 15

US Marine Corps Derogatory, or endearing, term for the US Marine Corps 16 gone to war 17 communism 18 from Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Law of the Jungle’ 19 slang for Special Forces troops 20 from the Animals hit, “We Gotta Get out of This Place,” released in 1965 4

If it's the last thing we ever do ... We gotta get out of this place, 'cause girl, there's a better life ... for me and you” as they transit to some distant fray or zoom-zoom for some boob-boom21 to Saigon Their raucous laughter fades away But the irony lingers on Here I am a Canuck22, a cherry23, a boonierat24 the FNG25, a jungle cat about to do time In this cruel place No reception line No welcome mat No kind word but a lot of hollering, crying, and dying, And a blood-curdling scream such as I had not yet heard but to which I later became conditioned and accustomed then the opiate calm The enemy are real monsters to us They never give out treats but know every trick in the book We have a lot of names for them Gooks, Dinks, Charlie, Dicks Little People, Slants, Slopes VC, Victor Charlie, Vicious Chuck26 or most respectfully, Mr. Charles our own exalted Boogeyman of Vietnam And we are real monsters to them, Round-eyes, Dinky Dau27, Du Ma28, White Devils, werewolves we are and worse names, I’m very sure
21 22

sex slang term for Canadian 23 a novice, youth, someone inexperienced; a virgin 24 a combat infantryman 25 acronym for “fucking new guy” 26 various slang terms for North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerillas. 27 crazy 28 motherfuckers 5

We demonize, other and dehumanize them They demonize, other and dehumanize us That’s probably happened in every war since the last Ice Age It has been the way of war but not of the true warrior And there are many true warriors who respect the enemy who have to fight this war all the same We grunts29 mature instantly and are cured of youth’s delusions of invincibility and immortality we’re dressed in tiger suits30 The NVA and VC31 are in tan uniforms and black pyjamas but whatever side we’re on or whatever our dress the losers in the game the rotting dead end up the same in a box or rubber sack piled in a stack down in a ravine out in the back Imagine… It doesn’t smell nice like the women here do. It smells of grease, gas, grime, gun oil, blood and guts, rot, must, smoke, sweat, slime piss and shit—diarrhea you know disease, and puke, stink of death and the pervasive smell of the infernal jungle a jungle where man-eating tigers with their fearful symmetries32 lurk in the forests of the night a jungle with tiger-eating men
29

infantrymen tiger stripe camouflage 31 Acronyms for North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong guerillas 32 allusion to The Tiger by William Blake.
30

6

hiding in plain sight and bent on murdering you and your crew It’s never a fair fight The many against the few is how we play it right with deadly powers of firepower, flares and napalm burning bright setting the jungle dark and calm and all unfortunates within alight Listen, it’s Guns n’ Roses “Welcome to the Jungle!”33 “Do you know where the fuck you are? You in the jungle, baby!” You’re going down Wake up, or you’re fixing to die Born under a dark star or a rising bad moon34? You’re gonna fry Run through the jungle Be a crispy critter35 taken out like steaming smoking charred meat not on a platter, but on a litter Yeah, welcome to the jungle36 Fun 'n' games Dirty deeds We all have funny names play with guns and blades The endless grind Don’t ever slip You’re in a bind You’re in its grip Don’t fall behind You’ll die if you bungle Don’t be a flake Don’t sham Don’t be a fake
33

Welcome to the Jungle is a song by American hard rock band Guns N' Roses, featured on its 1987 debut studio album, Appetite for Destruction. 34 Allusion to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising 35 burn victim 36 allusion to Guns N’ Roses Welcome to the Jungle 7

And don’t scam Stay off the take Don’t coast Don’t ever diddy-bop37 or trundle38 or else your toast Remember, baby The Devil takes the hindmost So be, baby, be Don’t ask why Never lie Kill or be killed Live but let die Don’t get high Don’t be a jerk Get the body count Don’t shirk Don’t go berserk Get the mojo39 working Let the toll mount Keep on trucking Keep on killing It’s insane Keep on humping It’s inane We star in our own sick Halloween jungle horror flick Immolation Damnation Bamboo Voodoo The verdant jungle becomes a perfectly evil monsterdom of every conceivable ugliness relentless danger and smothering confinement and many a tropical disease Tricks and treats like landmines Make us ill at ease Hoodoo40 And Bouncing Betties41 Cut you in two
37 38

swagger move noisily 39 slang for magic, self-confidence 40 conjuration, witchcraft 41 a type of antipersonnel mine 8

And if not They leave you, an amputee, crippled or deaf and stunned You’re puking and you’ve got the runs This ain’t livin’ the dream We’re playing for keeps Know what I mean? We got everything you want from medic’s balm to drums of foo gas42 and napalm43 Honey, we know the names We know the games Charlie44 wants to bring us to our knees To watch us bleed We learn to live like animals Like the preying fearful tigers or spooked spotted deer We take it in We take it all Nothing too big for us Nothing too small No matter how sore We will take some more We buckle for our dust45 Whatever the call When things are dire we do what we must crawling in the mire To win the bet we answer back with jungle etiquette with swarms of flak46 with a hail of flechette47 We’re either quick or we’re dead Hear the happiest words ever said: “It’s not my blood They missed, see Nothing wrong with me”
42 43

a type of gasoline directional mine a gelied gasoline munition 44 slanf for NVA or Viet Cong 45 fight furiously 46 chunks or jagged sharp metal 47 a type of ammunition resembling a small dart 9

Scared shitless and too afraid to go for a piss hiding and lying amid the razor plants don’t give away your position put up with stinging ants piss downhill prone if you have to shit in your pants Rotating out on point or on the drag or on red alert waiting for a raid day after day Keep changing plans Charlie testing our will “Hey, American fighting man! Why you kill? Who go to die today You cut off my ear? You die hungry? You die today for you colonel career? You die today for you general glory? Who fuck you girlfriend tonight? What you gain, ha? Eat our shit! Beaucoup pain and rain for you! Ha, ha, ha… Du-dit!48 You die, American fighting man!” It’s hit and miss Capture and recapture that hill Living nightmares are made of this A full metal jacket hail “Whispering Death” B -52 strikes or mechanical rain of ballistic piss “Spooky”49 raining down torrential death A tracer-lit lead storm Like a molten machine monsoon laid down on Mr. Charles, now thunderstruck Bringing him down Chuck’s shit out of luck
48 49

Fuck you The Douglas AC-47 Spooky (also nicknamed Puff the Magic Dragon) 10

I joined the party for 13 months But it started a long time before I got there and it ended many years later I was glad to get out alive and in one piece I was trapped in that real-life horror movie with thousands of sequels Like a horror movie festival on an endless loop Scenes never quite repeating themselves but with actors coming and going Some in body-bags Some with their severed limbs Attached to stretchers I never got to ride in a litter The Grim Reaper50 had a heyday I counted down the days I could sky out on the Freedom Bird51 back to the World I guess I finally quit the cast but there are a lot of us for whom the movie wouldn’t last But for others It never really ended but kept being replayed in flashbacks and nightmares or intrusive thoughts52 Remake after remake of the jungle the eternal jungle the green hell They know They never got out of the jungle They know where they are Still down, down, down In the elephant grass Picking blood-gorged leaches Insects still stinging They’re still fighting monsters Still singing
50 51

Death the plane that took troops from Vietnam back to the World (i.e. the USA) 52 Classic PTSD symptoms: acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes, including those that occur on awakening or when intoxicated). 11

“We Have Pacified This Land One Hundred Times” Zap! Zap! Zap! Look out for those mines Look out for that deadfall That shit-laced Punji trap They’re still in the jungle Still in the crap Running through the jungle Never looking back53 The doorbell rings “So there you have it” “Excuse me… It’s my job to get the door… And hand out the treats.” Walking over to the door, I heartily sing The old but outlawed cadence: “Strafe the town and kill the people, Drop some napalm in the square. Catch them early Sunday morning, While they're on their way to prayer. Drop some candy to the children, Wait until they gather 'round. Take your 20 millimeter, Gun the little bastards down.” I open the door and see some tots with their mothers like MPs in behind wielding and waving flashlights A bumble bee, a lion and a bear a bat A chicken, a monkey, a floppy-eared hare And a cat “Trick or treat, trick or treat!” They exclaim I bend down to toss some goodies and some snacks Into their Jack O’Lantern loot bags Rucks and packs “Thank you, thank you, merci beaucoup…” “You’re welcome, de rien”, I reply with a grin
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allusion to Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Run Through The Jungle 12

I now put on a stern sergeant’s face Cup my hands to form a blow horn And in the loudest and hoarsest whisper I can muster Warn them…. “Do you know where the blazes you are? Be careful Don’t go out too far Have you seen the Elephant?54 Aren’t you afraid of Chuckie? The Reaper, The Creeper, The Serpent? Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright? The Scary Elf? The Wicked Witch? The Hairy Werewolf? or Grizzly Boogey Bear? Watch out, be wary Keep each other in sight Don’t linger Help each other out in a fight If in danger, call out, scream and shout And most important of all, by far Care for each other And know where the heck you are Remember, and beware Fend for yourselves It’s a damned jungle out there.”

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secondary meaning: Have you seen war? 13

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