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Can you smell in a dream? Or did I just dream it last night?
I was eighteen again, stepping from a DC 8 into Vietnam for the first time, slugged in the face by the stench of that steaming green land. It burned in my nose and lungs like nothing I'd ever known, a composite of rotting garbage, smoke from fires, human sweat—all cooking at 115 degrees. Boy did it scare me. I was thinking, if I can't even take the smell of the place....
Woke in the wee hours to an odor equally unforgettable: the fetor of deceased human flesh curing in equatorial sun. For a long time it clogged my nostrils, even though I was awake. Ended up sleeping on the living room couch, where it seemed less. This morning it was gone.
I found it easier to enter Vietnam than ever to leave. Part of me can never leave, I guess.
Sooooo, what else? ... Oh yeah. Today was the first day of fall semester. Rah rah, sis boom bah.
Dutifully administered the John Goddard Electroshock Lecture to my ENGL 002 sections. Fire and brimstone did rain down till every trembling eyeball glowed in terror. Well, they've got to know we're not convened to play pattycake. Get used to it, dudes: the zeros in English 002 signify you're in college by a vagrant hair. Shine fast or we snip you.
Christ have I got a lot of Asians in those classes. Sixty percent, I bet. Workload will be a hitch, and for my pains, at semesters end, I'll preside over yet another slaughter of the innocents. Wonder how many I can rescue this time.
Crossed my mind the Department could be stacking my rosters. Perfect way to guarantee an instructor they want to get rid of has low pass rates.
Yet I prefer another scenario, more flattering. Some of the Asians, I know, come looking for my sections. And they've got a pretty good grapevine going. Am I being screwed by my own competence?
Tuesday, September 3
Today is first class meeting for English 002. When teacher walk in, I am disappoint. A man teacher. I think he is 40 years old, maybe. His name is Mr. Coddard.
He make strong speech, scare us to death. He tell about final exam in December how tough it will be, how we will fail for sure if we dont be serious. Usually more than 50% fail 002, he say. Next he give worser news, if you fail any English class two time, you flunk out school, that's it buddy!
Everybody so quiet to hear those evil facts. Even the guys look scare (which we know they hate). In our little class, 15 students sit, 15 stand behind to see if they can add, all are misery. Only sound is clock running, its little finger goes around, I feel misery too.
Then Mr. Goddard talk to us more positive. Inch by inch his words rise us up from misery condition. Even if final is tough, he say, some students always pass. And if our class work hard, more can do it. Also, he promise to help us every way. He is English as Second Language teacher, his job is help student like us, etc, etc, etc.
Well, he seem sincere and I want to believe. But I remember my last semester English teacher. On first day she promise we will learn so much, then she give us only lazy teaching and many harsh judgements. In that class, all fail but three.
I must watch this new teacher. Are his words and actions same, or is he another fake one? If he is fake, I must decide some other plan to pass.
Tonight, I burn money and pray to my family. I promise my parents, my grandparents, I will pass English 002 this time. As spirits they watch me everything I do, how can I lie to them or break my swear?
In this journal I make second promise. If I fail English 002 again, flunk out school, disgrace my elder generations, I will end my shameful existence.
No way to fail English now. Because I always keep promise, and I dent wanna die.
Planned to finish the novel by the start of school. However ... didn't happen. I guess it's not that unusual for me to miss a self-imposed deadline, but I still don't like it. Feels as though life is slipping away as I run in place. New deadline: Thanksgiving.
I'll have to stop then anyway to revise the story collection. That deadline is not flexible, being someone else's. My first book publication. Would hate to blow it.
Sometimes, when I reflect on the novel, I have to ask myself whether the world really needs my black-comic saga of the doughty Corporal Ernest Candide. One more negative, mocking book about Vietnam. Six hundred grisly pages of hopelessness, overseasoned with irony.
Well, I think so, if it's good enough.
Thursday, September 5
Mr. Goddard explain we must write in this diary such as following: old memories, good and bad experiences, friends and enemies, important lessons we learn, things we believe, things we want to change, and anything we observe each day and want to tell. Minimum, 5 page per week.
He say we can write about pet peeps too, but what it is I wander? I suppose he mean we can write about our animals we keep in the house, which is popular American custom. Everybody has their doggy or kitty, and they love them more than people. Which of course is easy!
Can boring person like me write 5 page per week? I think I can, I did it before.
When I was nine, I keep diary just for fun. That one my father give it for my birthday. Its American, because he get it from his American customer. It have pink plastic cover, with flowers, say MY DIARY on front. Also, there is this little lock and key so I can lock it. None of my friends have one, in Vietnam diary is a strange idea. That make mine even more special, once father explain its function.
I write in there for more than one year. Until all pages fill, then I lose the key, so I can't open. But after, I hide the diary in my chest, under blankets. I am thinking, when I grow up I buy new key, then I can open it, see how I change over the years.
Too bad that diary is lost. I leave it behind in our house with everything else the night we sneak out of Vietnam.
DATELINE: SOME AEGEAN ISLAND, 1100 B.C.
The stunning goddess Calypso saves Odysseus from drowning in the sea. She is quite smitten with the brave adventurer, though Homer doesn't tell us why. She installs him in her magnificently appointed cave, lavishes him with delectable foods and divine wine, reclines in his arms as the man who swam for three days does his utmost to please.
In her attempt to secure his permanent affections, Calypso offers immortality. By the contract, Odysseus will be eternally in his prime, all luxuries at his fingertips, a sweet-natured and voluptuous superwoman blazing nightly in his sack.
Yet he declines. Goddesses hold no allure for him. All day long he pines loyally on the beach, beard soggy with lonesome tears, desiring only to sail home to his wrinkling human Penelope.
UPDATE: LOS ANGELES, 1985
By light of day and dark of night Odysseus Jr. dreams of Calypso as he shacks up frustrated with his domineering muse Clementine. Perpetually he spins her sheets of written creativity, and in return she bestows no food, no drink, no sex, no immortality—just a two-buck ticket in the great sweepstakes of literary renown.
Jr. suspects his bright-eyed muse is seeing other writers on the sly, delighting in their favors as she dings them with the Wand of Genius she conceals from him, but he can't prove it.
So why does he permit her to sap his spirit, darken his pillow, cornhole his credit rating?
Love is blind, that's why. Also, she's the best he can do. Let's face it: no woman of fire has ever been able to suffer the writer's life for long. Tennis players get the Calypsos. Tennis players and hoods.
Saturday, September 7
When I pack this morning, I expect Mrs. Coberly to argue me one more time, but instead she offer ride, quite helpful.
I think I can like it here. Apartment is on second floor of house, another apartment across hall good for safety. Its a clean place with many windows and much light. The view is not special—just old houses, apartments. A street go by our front yard up the hill to campus.
Best thing is I have my own bedroom with nice big desk to study. And there is kitchen where I can cook my food. For all, I pay only $205, its the cheapest rent of the nine places I look. Of course, for such rent, this place is not perfect, outside some paint is come off, my window is crack, stuff like that. But I know I can't have everything, its nice enough for now.
My roommate Rayneece seem like polite and intelligent person. I believe she is trustable girl with high character, whatever Mrs. Coberly say. Rayneece graciously share her food with me tonight, because I dont have my own yet.
She is business major. She tell me all about it. In her future she will start a cosmetics company, be the boss, have her own jet and fly to meetings!
The most significant variable in warfare, to my way of thinking, is the in-your-face factor, the degree of hands-on engagement required to ensure the enemy's decease.
Toward the primitive end of the spectrum is the soldier who prefers to kill with a blade. He will savor the rasp of parting ribs, the pop of organs, the opponent's gurgling groan. The knifesman knows when his job is done and usually he does it well. He's in touch with his work, sometimes in love with his work. Other intimate weapons are hammers, candlesticks, garroting wires. Fingers, nails, and teeth of course represent the ultimate in intimacy, but because of their inefficiency are most often weapons of last resort.
Martial minds toward spectrum center will favor middle-range modes of attack. Odysseus chose the crossbow, much to the dismay of his wife's suitors. For me, it was a .45.
Rifles obviously are less intimate than handguns. Rockets, mortars, artillery—less intimate still.
The B-52s would come in at 30,000 feet, high above the clouds, you couldn't even hear them they were so high. But the bombs you could hear. Falling miles away they'd wake you in the middle of the night, tightly over-lapping concussions fused into one immense shuddering rumble that shook the earth. Falling closer, they became a blazing Armageddon that sucked the air right out of your chest.
Once our squad did a body count after a wall-to-wall carpet our CO called in. Fearless Leader thought he was stomping on a big enemy pow-wow, based on questionable intelligence our interrogators had beaten out of a captured VC.
We hiked five klicks through hills and jungle and in a high valley found a barren moonscape of big craters and uprooted, shattered trees. All on valley floor was levelled. The timber at valley rim, stripped of bark and leaves, leaned away from the devastation as though slapped backward by the hand of God.
We spent the afternoon combing the mass of debris for enemy kills, collecting each shard of bone and every strip of flesh, laying them on the trunk of a fallen banyan. Each bit counted as one kill. We confirmed 32 kills, though all the pieces could have come from—and I believe did come from—one unlucky water buffalo.
Predictably, our diligence did not please our commander. Thirty-two kills to him were not enough. Had we maybe missed some? To give the man his due, he had greater goals. Like many practitioners of the long distance coup de grâce, he was never satisfied. Always shooting for a personal best.
Tuesday, September 10
Today I learn this diary not private! Mr. Goddard call it writing journal, say we have to turn in so he can read. On Thursday! He cant see what I write in here! What will I do!
My hard thinking on this problem reveal what I must do. I must write new journal, which I can show it to my teacher. Forget personal stuff, I will write educated things, intelligent ideas, I will impress him, make him notice and say, here is smart student who should pass my course. Tonight, after I finish physics homeworks, I will begin.
Unfortunately, because I become upset about journal, I cant concentrate on essay we write in class today. Its our first big assignment, suppose to be 500 words, all I write is one messy page. I know I fail.
Why cant I listen better in class? Did anyone else make my dumb mistake, write private diary? I doubt it. My fault is, I am let my mind wonder sometimes, I am miss what teacher say.
The chickens dropped in last night. It's been a while, many months. As usual, I shot their butts off. Hope they're happy.
My second nightmare involves the 002 essays written in class today. I've never seen so many ESL basket cases in my life! Christ on a crutch.
I am irredeemably fucked.
Wednesday, September 11
Recently I learn Rayneece character is not so high as I believe.
First, her friendly smile and polite behavior disappear. Now she ignore me, unless I do something wrong.
Plus, she let her boyfriend stay here. I dont know his name, because Rayneece didnt introduce him, even though he seem to be living in our house. They dont talk to me much, so usually I stay in my room. I begin to wander, did Rayneece act sweet before to trick me so I will live here, help pay rent?
The worse part is when they go in Rayneece room. Even though they shut the door, and I shut my door, I can hear them. Her bed rattle and they moan and groan, they dont even try to be polite.
Their noises make me remember the island, I cant help it. In my mind I go back there—I see it happen again. And if I go to sleep, I dream it.
I want to cut that stuff out of my mind. But it is there forever and can come when it wants. Often it comes when I am weak.
In the DMV last week I saw a guy who reminded me a lot of Dad—in the shape of his head. Very distinctive head, especially in the U.S.
Cezanne captures well such cabezas in his "Cardplayers," though he exaggerates slightly. The cranium is large and tall, with a straight high forehead, hawk nose, thin lips, strong square chin, smallish ears.
When Gary and I were kids, Dad told us he'd noticed the farmers in northern France had heads like his, as he marched through near the end of the war. It was a question in his mind until in Paris he met a woman who joyously informed him that our family name is as French as French bread. "Countryman!" she cried, and gave Dad a big kiss.
Gary and I were left to ponder our Frenchness, as well as the details expurgated from Pop's version of his Paris visit.
Gary has a head much like Dad's. Me, a little less. I'm not built on their massive scale generally, and when it comes to heads, I have a lower hairline, fuller lips, more tapered chin. The broken-looking beak we share.
I have scars like Dad now, but that of course has less to do with genetics than misguided family legacy. My father's principal scar runs from his right shoulder to his left hip, an inch wide in the middle, tapering at the ends. Whenever we pulled rocks, he'd take off his shirt, and it fascinated me, that nontanning white scar, as did the story behind it, always told bluntly with few details. A Luftwaffe bombardier dumped a 500-pounder in the roadside ditch where Dad was lying, and Pop lost the tussle. Almost died. Imagine, from a little thing like that.
This is the old huzzard's birthday, if he's still kicking.
Monday, September 16
When I fill application for work-study, I ask for technician job in computer lab. I feel my math major make me qualify, also I supervise the computer center at high school during senior year.
Lucky for me, they give what I ask. I am assign to university computer lab. Today I go to work first time.
My boss Robert is Mexican, I think, with short hairs that stand up straight on his head. He seem so serious, he's about 20 years in age.
Kindly he tell me some advice to show how ignorant I am about computers and the mistakes I will make. He's physics major, and accordingly to him, physics is the toughest major at CSUM.
What is my major, he ask.
I learn math is only third toughest major.
I dont know if working for Robert will be fun, but one good thing, I won't be ignorant about computers or anything for long. As he share his intelligence with me, I will become wise woman.
Last week, I did a stupid thing. Now it worry me a lot. When I try to write new journal to impress my teacher, it keep sounding silly to me, so finally I pick up one of Rayneece magazine and look inside. One story interest me. It concern how black ladies go bald because they tie their hair in knots.
That give me idea, I decide to write a report and warn black ladies: dont tie your hair in that manner. Thus, I can use some of the ideas in the story, but say them in my own words.
I sit down, prepare to write. I find I dont know how to start. I sit many minutes, thinking, nothing seem to happen in my head. I did not sleep the night before, so I am very tire. I have terrible headache and I see little white spots.
I look in the magazine to understand how the writer begin. I like the way she begin very much. So I borrow her sentence.
Well, I try to say her ideas with my words. But each time I look in magazine it seem like she say the ideas so much better than me. I start to copy the story, not change much.
When I finish, I copy another story same way, and soon I have 14 page total, more than enough. In my sleepy head, I tell myself the extra pages make up for copying.
Now I wander, will my teacher catch me? Will he see I cheated?
The death smell returned last night. Woke me again. This time I was able to recall some of the dream that went with it.
I'm swimming on a sea, no land in sight. My body's tired, but I can't quit swimming. To quit is oblivion. On and on I stroke, losing power slowly as I run out of gas.
I sense a presence somewhere beneath me. It watches my struggle, waiting. I feel if I quit swimming, I will sink to it, and it will have me.
End of dream.
My nightmares get more surreal over time, more threatening too. And what am I to make of dream content leaking into real life?
DIAGNOSIS: The boy's head is sorely fucked, M'lord. 'Twould be kindness to amputate.
TREATMENT: Anodynes of choice in hair-raising quantities.
PROGNOSIS: Abandon hope ye who enter here.
Tuesday, September 17
Mr, Goddard give back our first essay today, and mine has NC grade, mean No Credit—Fail. Even though I expect this, but my stomach get sick anyway.
He return our journals too, everybodys but mine. Mine he keep it on his hand, tell me please see him after class. Then he put it on his desk.
Later, when he write on board, I sneak out of the room. I dont think he saw.
I know he's gonna tell me I cheat my journal, therefore I fail the course. And I want to avoid. But of course I avoid nothing by sneak out of class. If he want to fail me, I can only delay his action.
Too late to change teachers. What will I do?
Naturally Rayneece pick tonight to yell at me because of my showers. She say I make big water bill, one shower per day is enough for any person, dont you realize we live in a dam desert, she accuse. Her attitude is quite rude. She lecture me like auntie teach the little girl.
I decide I will take my showers when she's not here. No more than three per day, that way I will avoid conflict with this unreasonable, selfish, and insulting person. I did not bother to mention that she and her boyfriend keep me awake last night, again. She should think of stuff like that before she criticize my showers.
MHP asked why I haven't turned in her frigging surveys. Told her they'd been dutifully administered, right on schedule, but somebody broke into my car and stole them.
The look on her face was priceless. She knew I was lying, but what could she do?
Yeah, her survey She wants our foreign-born students to translate ten English sentences into their first languages. Looks innocent enough. But what are the odds? In some way or other she's going to skew the data, drawing her own foregone conclusions in order to fuck over students and instructors too. Her M.O. never varies.
It's a byproduct of her warped nature. Just as scorpions love to sting, More Humping Power craves the hump. Three times a year, with her nightmare finals, she happily humps all writing students. She humps us teachers too, as we try to do our impossible jobs while dancing in the gears of her Kalkan torture machine.
Screw the Empress of Decomposition! May Mary Hughes Parcell meet the thrill of her life on the business end of an impaling spike.
Environmental footnote: the surveys were not wasted. They were recycled to my stock of scratch paper. Just wish I'd thought to ask old Hump for more surveys—to replace the stolen ones. Can't get enough of that there scratch paper. Know what I mean?
Thursday, September 19
For two days I can't sleep, cant eat because of weak stomach, worry all the time. Finally I visit Mr. Goddard in his office before class. I confess what I did: copy magazine, cheat my journal.
His reaction surprise me. There is no lecture, he just ask me to explain why I do it. So I tell him about this diary, about why he cant read it—and about the new journal I try to write all in one night.
He give no punishment for cheating, nothing. He just say, don't do it again. And, to my shock, he tell me I can keep writing in this diary for my journal assignment! He wont read it because its too personal, he will only count the pages. However, I must do three page more per week than the other students because my assignment is special.
When I leave his office, I am very happy, I am thinking he is so kind. He can fail me—but instead he give special assignment. What a nice teacher!
Then, I begin to wander. Why is he so nice and easy? Already he treat me different from others in my class. Does he want something? I hate to be ungrateful person, but I know many Americans wear one face outside, second face inside. Always wise to be careful.
There are many different reasons for plagiarism, some founded on the gravest academic sins, some justifiable.
The most perceptive student of English literature I know admitted to me that she plagiarized written assignments during her first term at Oxford. By this unorthodox means she trained herself to read and write English (her second language) with the proficiency of her British classmates. She then dumped the crutch, flying unassisted in her adopted tongue. Cribbing as a learning tool.
Obviously, not all plagiarism is equally constructive. It depends on context, motive, the degree of sincerity involved. I really let a student off the hook today. I did it because she was honest with me about her reasons. Time will tell whether I made a mistake.
Saturday, September 21
Since two days I do not see Rayneece, even at night she is gone. At first I feel so peaceful with her and the boyfriend not here. I dont have to hide in my room, I can watch TV, cook my' food, anything I want. Also I dont have to listen to their sex noises.
But after dark sometimes I get nervous. I know this isn't safest neighborhood. One time Rayneece warn me dont walk alone at night, always lock the door, lock windows when you leave.
But are locks enough? Can't the criminal break in? And what if he has knife or gun? How I will protect myself? It can be very bad, as I imagine.
With all the lights off it's so scary in this old house!
Eddie's dead. Been seeing it on the news since yesterday evening. His dad called this morning.
Wanted to fly back for the funeral, but Mr. P. talked me out of it. Says I should wait and visit next summer, when things have settled. At this point, everybody's just trying to figure out what happened.
Excerpted from Never Fade Away by William Hart. Copyright © 2002 by William Hart. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted June 18, 2002
This story hit, ¿Close to Home¿, for I am a Vietnam Vet and a member of a minority. It is for these reasons that I was very sympathetic, understanding, and emotionally drawn to the people in this story. William Hart has written a short, but powerful story that packs quite a punch. It¿s a solid and touching story of the relationship between a teacher and his student, that could become romantic but does not quite reach that point. It¿s 1985, and a Vietnamese student, Tina Le, has signed up for an English Secondary Language (ESL) course at a Los Angeles college. John Goddard is her writing teacher and a Vietnam Vet, who is still experiencing flashbacks of the war. The story is told in alternating journal entries, so that we are exposed to the views of both characters daily lives. This creates a very personal and intimate method of telling the story. I think it brings us closer to the characters real feelings. The story unfolds as the English Department decides to flunk out the many Asian Students. Tina Le, a math major, has a talent for writing stories. She writes a heartfelt story on the suffering of her family back in Vietnam during the war. Goddard recognizes her literary talent and tries to reward her by having the story published. Soon Goddard finds out the university administrator plans to fail the overabundance of ethnic minority students, including Tina Le. Once Goddard finds out Tina Le has failed the course unfairly he strongly brings his objections to the university administrator, and soon finds himself fired from his job. After filing a grievance, they are given a hearing, and what follows is a courtroom like drama, where both Tina Le, who testifies for Goddard, and Goddard fight to save his job. During this time, Tina Le¿s and Goddard¿s relationship deepens, to the point where it could become romantic. Of course, this creates even more problems for both of them. This is a short and easy read, and an impressive debut by a writer that is a force to be followed in the future. I especially enjoyed and related to his Vietnam experiences and the emotional and caring feelings he had for his ethnic and Vietnamese students. This is a book that¿s hard to put down, and a story that should touch almost any heart. Highly Recommended! Joe HanssenWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 24, 2002
Never Fade Away is a deeply moving book. It takes place in a mythical Cal State campus, and deals the struggle between a compassionate and competent ESL instructor and a program that seems to feel its job is to flunk students out. It is told from the point of view of the instructor and one of his students, and really succeeds in presenting the student¿s point of view. In dealing with several universities, I have seen the same kind of thing Hart describes: Very competent speakers of English as a second language who do well in all of their courses, have developed impressive levels of competence in English, and yet can¿t seem to pass the senseless and pedantic exams given by the writing departments. And of course the same problem exists throughout the entire educational system. This book is riveting. I read it in two sittings, only because I forced myself to put it down late at night because I had to get up early the next day.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 18, 2002
A wonderful, touching story. Never Fade Away is the tale of two unlikely heroes brought together as they challenge the status quo of a corrupt academic system. John Goddard and Tina Le are beautifully depicted. Hart provided an honest glimpse into their lives and keeps you rooting for them, even beyond the final page. Never Fade Away is a testament to the human spirit. It's proof that heroism lurks in surprising places, and that beneath the emotional baggage we all carry, truth, and even love, can be found.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.