Blows Against the Empire by Peter Nolan Smith

Early in April 2001 a task force supporting the aircraft carrier US Kitty Hawk anchored off Pattaya. Its 12,000 soldiers and sailors invaded the go-go bars of Beach Road and I avoided the chaos without taking into account my Thai girlfriend’s displeasure at having to stay home night after night.

“I not leave farm to sit in house watch TV. I want to see friends.”

I agreed to visit Walking Street, hoping the twenty-four year old would recognize the wisdom of my decision. Of course a had witnessed plenty of shore leaves during her two years at the Tahitian a Go-Go and enjoyed the attention of young sailors.

She sexied herself up in a pink halter-top and hot pants, then wound her long hair into a snaking braid.

“Not worry. I only love you. Not other Americans.”

“What about other countries?”

“I only have you.” She straddled my motorcycle with her thin arms around my chest.

“And I believe you.” I drove through the diesel-belching traffic to Soi BJ.

On Walking Street teenage touts hawked sex shows to naive Chinese tourists. Toughs offered bootleg cigarettes with a keen eye for more profitable action from drunken Yanks. Legless beggars dragged broken bodies along the pavement. Cambodian illegals brandished mammoth snakes for farangs to photograph and a baby elephant competed in a chug-a-lug contest with a beer-bellied Swede to a Babel of pop songs blaring from over-sized amps. Pattaya’s fun had been outlawed in every American town, which was another reason for its popularity with the US military.

Walking Street’s main attraction were the go-go bars manned by bikinied dancers from the Isaan Plateau and discotheques filled with smiling girls in tight jeans and skimpy shirts.

The Thai government had benignly declared that nightlife was an example of young people having a good time, although even a blind man would have recognized the playfulness between Thai dok thongs and falangs bah as a facade for mercenary flesh transactions.

Ae and I were no different. She provided sex. I gave her money.

After her pretend orgasms she sometimes said, “Rak khun.”

Love sounded good coming off her lips, but Ae had an Italian boyfriend coming in June.

He would save me from my 21st Century version of THE WORLD OF SUZIE WONG, so for now we strolled arm in arm through the Last Babylon’s bedlam. When a trio of navy boys stumbled noisily from a go-go bar, Ae asked, “Why you not same sailor?”

“I’m old and they’re young.” Two months shy of 49, I felt 25 and acted 15.

“You not old.” It was a nice thing to say, even if the mirror stopped lying years ago.

“You still not same other Americans.” She tugged me to a line-up of bootleg Prada shoes on the sidewalk. “You work computer. Not drink too much. Take care of me. Other Americans cheap. One time I go to hotel to sailor. He have sex with me. Not pay. He cheap Charlie.”

“Maybe he thought you were in love and wanted to do it for free.” I hated these stories.

“No woman do for free. Not Thai. Not western.” She tried on black platforms. With the extra four inches she could look me in the chin. “Maybe some time I make love to you for free.”

I handed the salesgirl the equivalent of $8 to disprove her claim about American Cheap Charlies. We stopped at Hot Tuna, my friend’s bar. Ae listened to the bargirls’ gossip of who loved whom, who had left whom, and who had a broken heart, knowing one day that my name was destined to fill a slot in their conversation. Their talk accelerated into rapid-fire Thai and I listened to a young swabbie’s boast about kicking Chinese butt.

“We’ll knock their planes out of the sky in less than an hour and sink their ships in two.”

The Chinese had bought down a Navy spy plane. The President was threatening action. It was all politics and I said, “It won’t come to war.”

“The gooks been begging for a whooping,” A blonde sailor with a Panhandle drawled belligerently into his beer.

“We won’t have a war, if our president exerts a little diplomacy.”

The Commander-n-Chief’s predilection for straight talk excluded soft power. “If it does come to a fight, you’ll splash them, but they’ll nuke the fleet.”

“Then we blast ’em into the Stone Age.” The Texan spilled his beer.

“And they’ll wax San Francisco and LA to save face.” Face was as essential to an Asian as driving a big car was to an American.

“Screw their face, we’ll bomb ’em until their fortune cookies glow in the dark!” another sailor exclaimed, earning the scowls of more pacific farangs. My young countrymen were beyond caring about the opinion of Italian perverts in soccer shorts. I tried to lighten the mood. “A couple of H-bombs will start the nuclear winter, solving the global warming problem.”

“None of those missiles would hit America, if we had NMD,” The Texan referred to the President’s grandiose Star Wars shield against North Korean, Chinese, Iranians, or Israeli missiles.

“The Commie rockets have a range of 1200 miles. They might reach the Aleutian Islands. A war with North Korea would cost about $200 billion. “About $6,000 per peasant family.” This same sum would provide each American with a week’s vacation at DisneyWorld. “We give them an out and they won’t fight us.”

“That’s blackmail,” the Texan snapped with a corded neck. “You serve in Vietnam?”

“No, I protested against the war.”

“How? By wearing beads and smoking pot?” His friend chuckled sarcastically and the Texan added, “And he didn’t inhale either.”

“And we don’t too.” They play-acted puffing on a joint and then shunned me to watch the Muay Thai boxing in a nearby ring, but my participation in the peace movement had involved crimes against the State dating back to a warm spring day in 1965, which was a long time ago in the suburbs outside Boston.

Having returned to my split-level house from Our Lady of the Foothills, I tore off my Catholic school uniform and dressed in a tee-shirt and jeans. My mother was in the laundry room. My brothers and sisters were watching WHERE THE ACTION IS on the TV.

It was too nice a day for the lip-synching of Paul Revere and the Raiders and I went outside to chuck a hardball against the wooden backstop at the end of our driveway.

My pitches struck the splintered strike zone with a thud. I called the strikes and balls. I was pitching a no-hitter in Fenway, until Addy Manzi crossed the lawn. My teenage neighbor was sexier than a Playboy centerfold in her white shirt, blue tie, plaid skirt and white knee sox. To show off I was more than twelve year-old boy I wound up in imitation of the Red Sox’s Dick Raditz, and hurled a speedball over the backstop into the yard.

“Have to work on that control,” she commented and I jealously imagined her flirting with the local high school ace. As I started toward the ball, she said, “Wait a second.”

Wearing a baseball glove, I couldn’t stick both hands in my pockets to hide my embarrassment. “For what?”

“How about a drive?” Addy asked with a mesmerizing lilt.

My toes twisted in my Keds.

“W-w-where you want to go?”

?Nowhere special? She brushed back an auburn strand with practiced poise. ?Just around to feel the wind through my hair.?

At sixteen she existed in a perpetually cool world of teenagers, while thirteen year-old boys barely had hair on their chins. I swallowed hard. “I don?t have a car.”

“We can drive my mother’s Tempest. She’s gone out with friends. My brother is at the dentist. No one needs to know.” She dangled car keys from an index finger. “Can you drive?”

My grandmother had taught me to drive in her VW Bug. It had a shift and the Tempest had a push-button transmission. It couldn’t be that hard. “I guess so.”

“C’mon, it’ll be fun.” Addy cocked her head in the direction of the car in her driveway. She had babysat for my family and taught me the Twist. I couldn’t refuse her anything. “Okay.”

She clapped with more enthusiasm than a teenage girl should exhibit to a grammar school boy. I was scared.

“You mind if we go someplace no one will see us?”

“Fresh.” She slapped my arm and I sputtered, “I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I was joking.”

“Oh.” I threw my baseball glove into a bush and followed her across the lawn to the car.

She slipped into the Tempest and turned on the radio. WBZ was playing 98.6 by Keith. I put the car in reverse and drove to the STOP sign on Rte. 28, where Addy said, “Now turn left to Chickatawbut.”

“Chickatawbut?” The road through the Blue Hills was an infamous make-out spot.

“You said quiet.” She raised an eyebrow.

I stepped on the gas. The convertible sped to forty.

At Chickatawbut Road I fishtailed through the intersection.

“Sorry about that.”

“Drive like you belong in the car.” Addy leaned closer to the open window. The breeze bore her perfume to me. My mother also wore Lanvin. Addy lifted her eyes to the canopy of trees overhead and said, “Stop at old CCC Tower. We?re taking a little walk to the next hill.”

“A missile base’s on top.” My hands were damp on the steering wheel.

“Not anymore. LBJ pulled out the missiles to please the Russians.”

?That means Boston is unprotected from nuclear attack.? During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the nuns had drilled us to duck under our desks in case of nuclear attack. We pray for peace and our eternal souls. The bombs had never come, reinforcing the sisters? faith in miracles.

“Don’t worry, it’s too nice a day to die.” Addy’s words calmed my fear and I parked the car. The other cars were empty. No couples parked here this time of day. They went into the woods and that was where Addy led me too.

We scrambled along a muddy trail. The sunlight dappled through the new leaves onto her golden skin. I grew breathless with anticipation. We mounted a hillock. Two teenagers in leather jackets waited by a chain link fence. I recognized the taller one.

Two months ago Addy had come home near dawn. Her mother had grounded her for a month and banned the car mechanic from seeing her daughter.

Little can render a teenage boy more attractive to a girl than her mother’s disapproval, if you throw in a tattoo, oil-slick hair, black engineer boots, and a silvery SS-SuperSport.

“What’s Dennis Halley doing here?” Half the boys in town wanted to be like him.

“Silly boy.” She ran to kiss Dennis, who asked, “Who’s the kid?”

“He’s cool.” Addy vouched for my presence. “He gave me a ride.”

“Way to go, kid.” Dennis patted my back.

I had done him a favor.

He pulled out a pair of wire cutters and opened a hole in the fence.

His squat friend crawled through the breach and ran over an embankment with a whoop. Addy was the next to go. She climbed to the top of the hill and Dennis turned to me. “What about it, kid?”

I had smashed pumpkins on Halloween and set fire to the woods on Easter Sunday, but was paralyzed by my mother’s warning to walk the other way, if I saw trouble coming. “The sign on that fence says they punished trespassers.”

Dennis lifted a rock.

“Who this belong to?”

“No one.”

“And that sign?”

“The government.” Running hard, my yard was only ten minutes away.

“And the government belongs to you and me and the people in Boston.” He threw the rock at the sign. “So?”

“This place belongs to us.” The FBI parents wouldn’t appreciate his logic.

“Damn right, it does. I spent last year fighting in Nam. Shooting at strangers. Possibly killed them. There are people, who think shooting strangers is wrong and they might be right.” Dennis’ treasonous statement contradicted the nuns? prayers for the fall of communism. “You know any Vietnamese?”

The only Orientals on the South Shore were Chinese waiters serving Pu-Pu platters and we never spoke to them, except to make fun of their accents.

“No, I don’t.”

“Those VC were peasants. Same as my grandfather from Ireland. Same as you and me. So you gonna run home or come with me?”

Leaving meant leaving Addy. I hunched through the opening and raced Dennis to where his friend and Addy stood beneath a tall flagpole. The South Shore spread beneath us like a map slipping over the edge of the world into the sea. The thug with the chin beard pointed out his house near the Quarries.

“Where you live, kid?”

I focused below the hill.

“The tan house next to the greenish one.”

“That’s my houser the green one,” declared Addy.

“That’s not tan. Don’t tell me you live in a pink house?”

“Shut up, Bush.” Kevin Halley warned and his friend replied grumpily, “Nothing wrong with living in a pink house, kid.”

“Where are the missile silos?” Addy suggestively raised an eyebrow.

Kevin took her hand.

“I’ll show you.”

They disappeared behind a half-buried building. Bush wandered off to explore the concrete bunker. The wind died to a whisper and the hill became an end-of-the-world movie. I was the last man on Earth and twelve years-old was nothing to a teenage girl. I threw a rock at the nearest Quonset hut. It broke a window. I smashed pane after pane.

Bush ran up to me.

“Kid, you pitch a baseball that hard, you can start for a Little League team.”

“Thanks,” I panted and Bush motioned with his hand. “I need your help. C’mon.”

Hundreds of fire extinguishers had been stacked inside a garage. We lugged out twenty and pulled the levers. Jets of CO2 gas shrouded the hilltop and Bush declared, “It’s like the planet Venus and we’re two astronauts looking for space girls in bikinis.”

“I like that movie.” I stretched my hands into the fog without touching an extraterrestrial go-go girl. Hearing a whistle, Bush grabbed my arm. ?Kev must have found some loot.”

We jogged out of the mist. Kevin and Addy stood staring down a concrete shaft. The sunlight only penetrated a couple of feet. Kevin dropped a rock into the silo. I flinched in expectation of an explosion. The stone clanged on metal.

“Missile silos. C’mon, I’ll show you something fucked up.”

We followed him inside a damp bunker. He stopped at a wrecked console. The electronics had been wrenched out of their brackets. “This is where the buttons were.”

“The buttons to shoot the missiles,” Addy whispered secretively.

“Or order more coffee.” Bush joked, but Kevin directed our attention to a floor-to-ceiling glass map of the world. His finger traced a line over the red circles dotting LA, Detroit, New York, Chicago, Boston.

“Targeting cities in the USA isn’t funny.”

“Why would they bomb them?” A-bombs were for the commies.

“To squash any revolution out of control of the National Guard.”

“That’s crazy talk.”Bush disagreed with a voice shadowed by doubt, for Watts had burned to the ground the previous summer.

“Crazy talk, I’ll tell you crazy. I get caught for joyriding. The Quincy judge said either two years in the Marines or three years in Billerica Correctional. I was in Vietnam to fight commies. I never saw one. I shot at trees, burned villages. It ain’t like the movies. Not clean. Things I saw made me sick and I got this for my troubles.” Kevin lifted his shirt. A long scar had been etched across his abdomen. “Fucking war.”

Kevin chucked a swivel chair through the map. I had believed in stopping communism until the heavy shards of glass continents cascaded onto the concrete floor. The transparent seas splintered into a thousand pieces.

Kevin didn’t lie and we took his revenge through an orgy of vandalism. We rammed doors through walls and smashed furniture with clubs fashioned from chair legs.

After ten minutes our rampage of senseless violence was waning, so I climbed a nearby slope with the flagpole’s lanyard. Addy looked at me with puzzlement, until I ran forward to let the rope carry me into space.

She shrieked with delight.

I had made her happy.

It was at this moment a police car crashed through the missile base?s front gate.

I released the rope and fell to Earth. My legs buckled and I keeled over in pain. The other three fled to the fence. Addy stopped at the hole. Her eyes swore me to silence. My wave signaled her name would die within my lips and she disappeared into the woods.

Two policemen manhandled me to the MDC cruiser. The older was Sgt. Tully. Everyone in my hometown had heard how he hated kids. He twisted my arm.

“Who were your friends?”

“They were from Southie.”

“We have ways of making tough kids talk.”

He shoved me into the rear seat.

His partner sat behind the wheel.

“You?ll have to pay for the broken windows.”

Last week I had batted a baseball into the Manzi?s dining room. One pane cost about $1. Hundreds had been smashed on the hill.

“I only broke a few.”

“Kid, you tell us names and I might go easy on you.” The young driver offered with a kind voice.

Sgt. Tully shook his crew-cut head. ?No deals. Why were you destroying government property? You a commie?”

I wasn’t giving up Addy.

“It was a protest against the War in Vietnam.”

The driver stomped on the brakes. The cruiser came to a rubber-burning halt a hundred yards short of the Route 28 lights.

“Get out of the car.”

I was dead meat and his partner smirked, “Now you’ll get it, you commie faggot.”

The young cop hauled me into the woods.

“Were you really protesting the War?”

“Not at first, but that’s the way it turned out.”

The billy club dropped at his side.

“Kid, I’m gonna let you go.”

I blinked in disbelief.


“My brother went to serve his country and they had him driving a beer truck. A fucking beer truck. It ran over a mine and he died for 3.2 Budweiser beers. It was fucked and it’s only gonna get worse. I can’t say nothing about it or else___”

“Or else people think you’re a commie faggot.”

He slammed his billy club into a tree.

“Kid, get home before I forget you?re a kid.”

I ran away to the dull thuds echoing through the woods. Kevin was right. Viet-Nam was not a John Wayne western. People died bloody deaths and if my not wanting to be any part of it made me a commie, then I was willing to join the KGB. I just didn’t have to tell anyone about it.

Arriving on my street I spotted Mrs. Manzi’s Tempest in the driveway. Addy’s brother bicycled out to meet me. Chuckie’s lower lip was numb from Novocain, as he said, “Man, my sister took the car without my mother’s permission and met Kevin Hally. Man, did she catch it.?”

“She say anything about me?”

“Why would she say anything about you?” Chuckie gave me odds of one-in-a-million of ever kissing his sister. After today I stacked another bunch of zeros on top that number. “You weren’t with her, were you?”

“No, I was throwing rocks at the Canyon.” The less anyone knew about this afternoon the better. “I’ll see you later.”

Crossing the merger of our two lawns, I glanced at their house.

Addy stood at the window, a teenage Rapunzel with a ponytail. She raised a finger to her lips to indicate she hadn?t mentioned my name. She blew me a kiss. I walked on pillows to my house.

Entering the kitchen, my mother hung up the phone.

“You have anything to tell me?”

Mothers have a strange way of finding out everything, but only if you tell them. “No.”

Her Medusa eyes studied me before softening to display the love deepest in her heart. She still believed whatever I said. “Then wash your hands and face before your father comes home.”

I went upstairs, convinced that not telling the truth can set you free.

The next day Mother Superior called me into her office and asked me if I believed in God. I tried quelling her fear for my immortal soul by falling to the knees and saying the ‘Our Father’ in Latin. When I finished, the old crone blessed herself with her Rosary. “Stalin was an altar boy too. I have my eye on you.”

She wasn’t the only one. My classmates shunned me during recess. Chuckie and Kyla Rolla, who had been my sweetheart for the past two years, defied this silent treatment and I loved them for saying it didn’t matter what anyone thought.

My protest against the War severed the ties holding me to this suburb. I accepted a scholarship to an all-boys high school ten miles away from my hometown. We attacked a nearby CIA lab during a rocket club exhibition. They had banned by cross-country team from using their fields. Only my father’s intercession prevent the perpetrators? expulsion. I lost my free ride.

Chuckie knocked up Susan Fox in junior year. He married her before Christmas 1969. Kyla and I broke up before the senior prom. I still wonder why.

In May 1970 I hooked school to demonstrate against the invasion of Cambodia in Boston Commons. The government has rejected my pension claims for the years of protest. The money was unimportant, for my only goal had been peace. Now all America and the world gets is war.

After my fifth beer on Walking Street I gave Ae the keys to my motorbike. She helped me from my stool.

“Why Americans talk loud?”

“They think it makes people understand them better.”

“Tam see-ahn-dang magh.” Thais rarely complained about noise.

“No farangs are half as loud as your father and brother after they get a bottle of Mekong in them ___,” My criticism was interrupted by the Texan sailor’s bump. I clenched my fists and he raised his palms, “You weren’t kidding about the war, were you?”

Informing him that a coke-addicted president concocted this conflict with China to get votes sounded like bitter grapes about the GOP stealing the election in Florida, after all Mayor Daley had robbed Nixon in 1960. I decided to play it straight.

“No, kid, it’ll blow over by the end of the month.”

“Thanks, sir, you had me worried. I didn’t want the rest of them to know I didn’t want to fight. I only joined the Navy to see the world.”

“I understand completely.” I had left Boston for the same reason. “And this is part of that world. Enjoy your leave.”

“You have a good night, sir.” He ran between two fat Germans, lifting his two fingers as a vee to the night sky. “Peace.”


Before Ae sat on the Yamaha, I kissed her. She regarded me suspiciously, “What’s that for?”

I straddled the bike, not explaining my affection.

Thais don’t care much about the rest of the world and a go-go girl from the TQ bar with three kids even less, however a teenaged soldier flashing the peace sign in this century gave me hope for the future, since one peacenik will become two.

The many that follow will give us strength in numbers and in the end the balance will swing away from war. It always does in the end, because everyone is a better lover than fighter.

Man or woman.

Adam and Eve.

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