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Bill Lee

February 11, 2008
 

Born in the USA

(continued from Bill Campbell)

Epilogue: Home and Away

Mexico
I discovered America in 1973, when I was five. Before that the world had no borders, no home and away. That summer we drove from New Jersey to Mexico in a white Volkswagen camper. My brother and I rode in the back, and Mom sat up front next to Tom, the longhaired man who had become a part of our family some years earlier, after my mom had met and fallen in love with him on her way to protest the Vietnam War. My father wasn’t with us, though he did fly down later to join us for part of the trip. The day after the Fourth of July, in Texas, my brother and I walked around collecting the remnants of exploded fireworks. The ground was hard and dry, the sun above us huge and hot and close. We must have been at another in a series of KOA campgrounds, but in my memory it seems like we were walking around a wide cracked battlefield at the edge of the known world, the smell of gunpowder still in the air, tiny shreds of red, white, and blue shrapnel everywhere. Afterward we ate chocolate Tastycakes from the campground snack bar, then we got into the camper and made America disappear.

In one hotel in Mexico I almost stepped into a bathtub with a scorpion. Out in the streets, the women all wanted to touch my blond curls. I wriggled away from them. I also wriggled away from the affectionate young American hippie couple we picked up hitchhiking. They rode with us for a while, crushed in the back of the camper next to my brother and me and mauling one another with groping, open-mouthed, tangled-hair love. Then they were gone. We stood on the lip of a volcano at the top of the world, my carsick brother puking. I chased a burro around some ruins. Dad showed up for a while in his button-down shirt then left. We walked up the steps of giant pyramids. My brother got such a bad sunburn that big blisters rose on his shoulders. Gods stared at us from ancient stone. There was a world beyond the borders of the world, strange and magical and dangerous. There were no Tastycakes there.

My mom painted an oil portrait of my brother and me after we got back to America. We are sitting in our pajamas in front of the television. I stare at the screen with something like gratitude, something like love.

America
I rented Stripes a couple days ago, self-medicating. I’d seen the 1981 movie before, many times, but I needed a laugh and some patriotism. I needed to hear Bill Murray’s speech about how Americans were kicked out of every decent country in the world, how we were homely and lovable castoffs, the whole nation a last-chance kennel of loyal and resilient mutts. I needed the unruly, stinging, incomprehensible defeat of the Vietnam War collapsed to the morphine core of a punchline.

“There’s something wrong with us,” orates the boot camp recruit played by Bill Murray. He is trying to rally his platoon in the face of a seemingly hopeless situation.

“We’re soldiers,” he concludes. “But we’re American soldiers. We’ve been kicking ass for two hundred years. We’re ten and one!”

Canada
Bill Lee, shown here with his Canadian team, avoided having to go to Vietnam because he was a professional baseball player, and with just a handful of exceptions professional baseball players were able to fulfill any military obligations by serving stateside in the reserves or the National Guard. This was how it was during the Vietnam War: some young men had more options than others. Money usually made the difference. For example, if you were a rich guy with a father in the oil business, you could jump to the head of a long, long list of people trying to get into the Texas Air National Guard, thus helping ensure that you will be intact and alive and able, years later, to send other young men to war.

Young men also avoided the draft by getting an educational deferment, which basically means if you had the money or the cultural capital to get into college the armed services left you alone, another obvious way in which the draft skewed along class lines. Even the economic hardship deferment, which in theory was set up to address the needs of the poor, was much more often taken advantage of by the well-off: rich draftees could more easily show that going into the army would seriously damage the standard of living of their families. Also, the rich could hire lawyers to argue their cases, and they could hire sympathetic doctors to declare them unfit for military duty.

I’ve wondered how I would have dealt with the situation. I think I would have gone to college and stayed there as long as possible. Maybe when that option ran out I’d have been faced with the dilemma described by Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried. O’Brien, drafted just after graduating from college, seriously considered fleeing to Canada. He described his reasons for considering this in a way that speaks to me much more than the reasons that showed up on signs at antiwar rallies. Protesters of draft age saying that they didn’t want to kill, especially in the name of an illegal and immoral war, were fine, but when I imagine myself holding a draft notice I don’t imagine having room for such selfless thoughts. I imagine thinking what O’Brien thought: I don’t wanna fuckin’ die.

In the end, he didn’t flee to Canada because he couldn’t face down the specter of going against his family and his town and America. America was too much to turn his back on. America was every memory he ever had. It was a kid in a Lone Ranger mask, a kid at a high school prom, a kid turning a double-play. It was everything. How are you supposed to turn your back on everything?

“I was a coward,” he writes. “I went to the war.” 

America
I watched Stripes after watching Full Metal Jacket, the last in a long series of Vietnam War movies I rented from the video store over the past few weeks. Oddly enough, the two movies—one a relaxed, thoroughly enjoyable comedy where no one gets hurt and everyone gets laid (or at least gets to ogle some good old fashioned early ’80s casual toplessness), the other a chilling portrait of war delivered with director Stanley Kubrick’s signature agoraphobic intensity—can be seen as two sides of the same coin.

Both are cut into two parts, a boot camp part and a combat part. Both are somewhat renowned for being clearly stronger in the first part. Both first parts have a dramatic tension at their centers that is missing in their second halves and that derives from the conflict between the main character, in both cases an unusually sophisticated wiseass, and the drill sergeant, played in Stripes by the great Warren Oates and in Full Metal Jacket by Vietnam veteran R. Lee Ermey.

Even certain key details contribute to the mirroring of one movie to the other. The first acts of both begin with the shearing off of the recruits’ hair (though Stripes precedes the scene with an amusing, typically languorous prologue in which Bill Murray’s character loses his job, his car, his apartment, and his girlfriend). Both wiseasses get punched in the stomach by their drill sergeants. Both movies end with the sound of soldiers chanting a popular song as they march: Manfred Mann’s “Doo Wa Diddy Diddy” in Stripes accompanies the platoon’s implied progress toward further bloodless boys-will-be-boys hijinx, and the theme to the Mickey Mouse Club in Full Metal Jacket provides the ironic backbeat for not only the continued advancement through the lurid fog of the savage and savaged Vietnam War soldiers but for an entire war-addicted empire.

The comedy ends with the gimmick of phony newspaper and magazine covers spinning into focus to suggest the immediate destinies of the primary characters, and the final cover, a Newsweek-type magazine featuring Bill Murray’s character, includes a subheading in the form of a question—”Can America survive?”—that both movies attempt to answer, the comedy with a wink and a Bill Murrayesque ironico-sincere Hell, yeah! yodel, the drama with the implication that America will endure but that being born in America will come more and more to mean being born to kill.

Vietnam
From my recent crash course on the subject, I have found that you generally don’t see much of the Vietnamese in the American cinematic re-imaginings of the Vietnam War. In Apocalypse Now you see some villagers from above getting gunned down by helicopter machine guns, then some deranged tribespeople who have adopted an insane American Colonel as their god. In Platoon you see shadowy figures with branches in their helmets, killing and getting killed, and you see villagers suffering the effects of a prolonged scene that evokes the spirit, if not all the excesses, of the My Lai massacre. In Full Metal Jacket you see a thief, a pimp, two prostitutes, and a sniper. In The Deer Hunter you see vicious captors forcing American POWs to play Russian roulette. Coming Home comes closest of all the major Vietnam War movies to eliminating the Vietnamese altogether, the only echo of a Vietnamese person the brief and disturbing appearance of a pointy-hatted “Oriental” ventriloquist dummy brandished by Willie Tyler.

According to sociologist (and Vietnam veteran) Jerry Lembcke, the message and success of the latter movie, which came out in 1978, provided a turning point in how America came to view the Vietnam War. Lembcke writes in his 1998 book The Spitting Image that “probably more effectively than any other film, Coming Home revised history so that the American people, and even many Vietnam veterans, remember the war as a coming home story.” The sprawling painful reality of the war shrunk to a tangible myth in Coming Home, Lembcke says, and that myth-making, along with the fact that, as he puts it, “the mid-1970s was a period for forgetting about the war” began to edit out some vitally important facets of the Vietnam War experience. “The reality of the war faded,” Lembcke concludes.

One of the elements edited out was the carnage rained down upon the people of Vietnam. The numbers are staggering: Three to four million Vietnamese killed. Actually they are unfathomable. In all my recent reading the image from beyond the edited myth of the Vietnam War that affected me most had nothing explicitly to do with those numbers. It is from a recollection of Jim Soular in Christian Appy’s book Patriots. Soular, who was a flight engineer on the gigantic Chinook helicopters during the war, participated in the forced evacuations that preceded the dubbing of a region a “free-fire zone” (which basically meant that anything that moved within that zone was the enemy and should be obliterated):

I never flew refugees back in. It was always out. Quite often they would find their own way back into those free-fire zones. We didn’t understand that their ancestors were buried there, that it was very important to their culture and religion to be with their ancestors. They didn’t understand what the hell was going on and had no say in what was happening. I could see the terror in their faces. They were defecating and urinating and completely freaked out. It was horrible. After we unloaded the people the helicopter stunk so bad we could hardly stand it. After we hosed it down we sprinkled bottles of aftershave all the way down the length of the chopper.

America
The other key element that has been edited out of the popular conception of the Vietnam War experience is the antiwar movement. Jerry Lembcke asserts that this elision took a significant step in Coming Home, aided by images of drug-addled hippies protesting soldiers as they returned from the war. He points out that there is no evidence that such a protest ever occurred (on the contrary, protesters did try to stop buses carrying inductees toward the war), and according to some accounts the antiwar protesters were often the first to reach out to Vietnam veterans. Furthermore, there was a much more widespread alliance between antiwar protesters and veterans than has been presented in the prevailing cinematic myths of the Vietnam War. As one soldier quoted in a 1969 Life magazine article put it, “I think the protesters may be the only ones who really give a damn about what’s happening.”

Awareness of that connection was all but obliterated by the 1980s. In many ways, the definitive movie myth of that decade was ostensibly about the Vietnam War experience, the gentler aspects of the previous decade’s coming home story stripped away. Now it’s no longer about, as in Coming Home, paralyzed Vietnam veteran Jon Voigt rediscovering his lost humanity. Now it’s about kicking ass and taking names. Now it’s about Rambo. And the only mention of antiwar protesters by Sylvester Stallone’s steroidal Vietnam veteran is a blast of vitriol blaming them for America’s defeat and vilifying them for mistreating veterans on their return to America. “Somebody wouldn’t let us win,” Rambo mutters at the end of First Blood. “Then I come back to the world and I see all those maggots at the airport. Protesting me. Spitting. Calling me baby killer, and all kinds of vile crap.”

With this widely seen accusation of protesters as being stridently opposed to the soldiers, and not the war (an accusation that Jerry Lembcke discovers has no actual backing evidence), the demonization of the antiwar protesters is complete. This demonization, it should be noted, began during the war in the highest reaches of the federal government, with Vice President Spiro Agnew characterizing protesters as “hardcore dissidents and professional anarchists” and accusing them of “demoralizing American soldiers.” President Nixon got into the act most notably after his widely unpopular invasion of Cambodia expanded the scope of the Vietnam War, calling antiwar protesters “bums.”

This line of thinking was picked up at the State level, with one governor, a former B-movie actor named Ronald Reagan (who would later, as President, earn the nickname “Ronbo”) claiming that “some Americans will die tonight because of the activity [protests] in our streets.” In Ohio, Governor James Rhodes called the Kent State students congregating to protest the Cambodian invasion “worse than the [Nazi] brownshirts and the Communist element and the night riders and the vigilantes. They are the worst type of people that we harbor in America.” Soon after this characterization, Ohio National Guardsmen fired their rifles at Kent State college students, killing four and wounding nine others.

Many years later, as America finally toed the waters of war once again in the 1990s with Operation Desert Storm, awareness of the origins of the demonization of antiwar protesters was virtually nonexistent; conversely, awareness of the myth of antiwar protesters as demons was high. According to Paul Loeb in his book Generations at the Crossroads, students in college during Desert Storm shied away from taking a stance against the war because they were swallowing the myths about protesters of the Vietnam War as facts: “At every kind of college, in every corner of the country, the slightest mention of antiwar activism of that time would impel them . . . to describe how peace marchers spat on soldiers, called them names, and drove to bases and airports with the sole purpose of heaping contempt on the already scarred young men as they returned.” By the 1990s to speak out against the war was to speak out against those sent to fight the war. It was to become, as Rambo might put it, a maggot. 

Iraq

Naturally, the common people don’t want war, but after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

I found the above quote in John Crawford’s book The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell. Crawford was a National Guardsman who served in the infantry during the Iraq War. The quote is from a statement at the Nuremberg Trials by Hitler’s second-in-command, Hermann Goering.

America
“People say you leave home, go to war, and become a man. I want to be a little boy again.” – John Crawford

When I was a little boy there was a girl in my class who claimed to be from Mars. She signed her name everywhere: “Beth from Mars.” It was odd, but it wasn’t completely beyond the pale in those days. In the late 1970s, America wasn’t quite all there. It was mired in recession, trying to forget a war. It was neither home nor away. It’s no accident that the biggest movie of that era began with the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Who wanted to be in the here and now? Who wanted to inhabit the realm of the defeated? Sometimes people were from Mars. Sometimes people were from Ork. Sometimes people were from Lovetron. Sometimes people were just from outer space. 

Bill Lee, known in those days as Spaceman, did odd things and said odd things. His unorthodox behavior ultimately got him banished from my favorite team and from, as it happened, the USA. Then it got him banished from major league baseball altogether.

He proceeded to continue playing baseball all over the world. He plays to this day, ignoring borders, ignoring concepts of home and away. Baseball is his home, his eternal childhood. As he puts it in his first book, The Wrong Stuff, “Like Peter Pan, I’ll never stop enjoying my games.”

He loves baseball as much as any little boy. He even believes baseball can be the America of our dreams, the America as a child would imagine it, a game without borders or wars. As something to believe in, you could do much worse. 

“If we start playing [baseball] in Afghanistan and Syria and Iraq,” Lee said in a 2005 interview, “we will have world peace.”

32 comments

  1. 1.  The day after the Fourth of July 1973 is the day I was born.
    This post was worth it just to find out how another American spent that day.


  2. 2.  Another brilliant post, Josh. Bravo! You don’t hear much about how many Vietnamese died in the Vietnam war, and most Americans would be shocked to know that number totaled more than 1 million. I also read somewhere that no one can really prove that Vietnam veterans were spit upon when they arrived home after the war. What do these facts and examples say about us?


  3. 3.  Great stuff, as always, Josh.

    Bill Spaceman Lee was one of my favorites growing up in the late 70s/80s, just for his sheer eccentricity.

    Oh, I was, what, 11?, when I saw Stripes and that was my introduction to Warren Oates. for quite some time I always thought of him as that drill sergeant from Stripes. Then I saw him in “Two Lane Blacktop” and everything changed. Then I saw it again last month after Criterion put that film out on DVD – and also saw The Wild Bunch and The Hired Hand. And my God, that man was a great actor.

    Anyway, thanks again.


  4. 4.  1 : Cool conicidence. Maybe someday there’ll be a Retrosheet for everyone so we can all see who was doing what when. (Or then again, maybe not; sounds kinda Big Brothery.)

    2 : The interesting thing about the spitting myth is that some people were getting accosted and ridiculed, but the ones getting accosted and ridiculed were by and large antiwar protesters, especially antiwar protesters who were Vietnam veterans. I think this got turned around when it got mixed in with the general Vietnam veteran experience, which was that they came home to a nation of people that unconsciously wanted to distance themselves as much as possible from the pain of that war. They were in a lot of ways abandoned.

    3 : Man, I love Warren Oates, especially in his tour de force, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia.


  5. 5.  Bill Lee is easily one of my top 10 all-time baseball players. Always liked the guys who didn’t quite toe the line. Plus he was a Red Sox when they were my AL team.


  6. 6.  I had the opportunity to hear Tim O’Brien speak at my college. He read from “The Things They Carried”, and got choked up by the end. It was a moving experience to see how his memories affect him so many years later. I highly recommend his books “Going After Cacciato” and “July, July!” if you haven’t read them.


  7. 7.  5 : This is the second time Bill Lee has been featured on this site (the earlier entry, which focuses on him at least a bit more, is among the Red Sox players in the team archives on the sidebar), and I feel like I haven’t scratched the surface of the guy. Luckily, there’s no shortage of books by him and readily available stuff about him on the internet. Here’s an enjoyable TV interview featuring a bearded and down-to-earth Lee just after he pitched a beauty for the Expos:

    6 : Thanks for those recommendations. I’ve been meaning to read more of O’Brien’s stuff for a while.


  8. 8.  Josh, I will always have a sentimental attachment to your re-telling of the rise and fall of JR Richard. This, however, is the story of our times, maybe of all times, but especially now. It — and you — deserve a much bigger audience. In the words of the late Steve Gerber, I hope like hell you know how good you are.


  9. 9.  They should build a statue of Oates for Alfredo Garcia.


  10. 10.  More good stuff. With regard to this topic, the one thing I’ve struggled with for the past 4-5 years is how to register your disapproval of the war.

    Polls routinely say that something like 60% or more of the population is against or strongly against the war. But that majority doesn’t seem like a very powerful one. How do they make themselves more heard and powerful? Is your only option at the ballot box in November? It really doesn’t seem like street protests have the same power that they once had.

    As someone who also was born in ’68, I missed the Nam protests, but know enough history to know that they made quite the impact. I don’t see how to make such an impact today, and something feels wrong with that.

    And on a lighter note, go Tastykakes! Finding them in Texas surprised me. I thought they were a local Philly metro area phenomenon, though recently they’ve reached as far north as my home here in Albany NY.


  11. 11.  10 That’s a good question about the protests. One thing I found interesting in reading about the war is that Vietnam era politicians, especially LBJ but also to some extent Nixon, really did have an eye on the protests, wondering how their decisions were going to be received “on the streets”; my feeling now is that the Bush administration people ignore all protests, embracing more fully than their predecessors the arrogance embedded in the Goering quote above.

    As for TastyKakes: I can’t believe I misspelled them! The first “K” in “Kake” was part of what made them taste so good.


  12. 12.  I never really minded the protesters but I will always remember arriving at San Francisco airport heading home but still in uniform. No spitting but the ugly stares were enough. Most of us changed clothes in the airport bathroom but back then our haircuts gave us away. There were no “thank you’s” and frankly I don’t think any of us wanted one. Respect or even a polite smile would have been cool but, except for fellow soldiers and vets, there wasn’t much of that going around.


  13. 13.  12 Thanks for offering your perspective, ODF. I really appreciate it. I’d read in Lembcke’s book about soldiers changing in the bathroom of the SF airport. It’s a wrenching thing to think about, young guys trying to strip away evidence of what was in fact an incredible sacrifice on their part.

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my wife’s cousins in Iraq (I wrote about the Marine in the Bobby Jones chapter, but there’s also a kid in the army), mostly hoping that they come home in one piece, also wondering what their homecoming is going to be like. I don’t think ugly stares will be a part of it this time, but according to John Crawford, coming home from Iraq was a brutal, alienating experience anyway. He says at one point: “You can never go back home.”


  14. 14.  “I think the protesters may be the only ones who really give a damn about what’s happening.” I like that quote. Say what you want about protestors, but at least they are taking the time to care.
    What is wrong with me? Why haven’t I protested any of this shit? Am I just an uncaring apathetic jerk? I hate war, don’t like it, and feel for the people on both sides getting massacred. People should stop to think that along with all “our boys” who are “sacrificing for us,” there is some 8 year old kid with arms blwon off from an American F-18 bombing. There is no way to make sense of the anger that soldiers, civilians or protestors feel. They are all caught up in one huge bunch of madness. No one knows who or what they are mad at anymore in my opinion.
    Dudes like Spaceman Lee, I’m with.


  15. 15.  Warren Oates was in a movie called “Race With The Devil” with Peter Fonda and Loretta Swit. It has one of the best car chase scenes you’ll ever see. Right up there with French Connection.

    My wife’s first cousin is Ron Kovic, author of Born On The Fourth Of July. I think that before anyone is ever put through an ordeal like that again we better have a damn good reason. I’m not sure that Iraq qualifies.


  16. 16.  Love the STRIPES/FULL METAL JACKET comparison. I remember in 1978 liking THE DEER HUNTER so much more than COMING HOME, which I thought was melodramatic white-guilt drivel. THE DEER HUNTER won the Oscar, but Voight beat De Niro (antiwar heathen Fonda and Walken also won, Meryl Streep lost).

    The next year, KRAMER VS. KRAMER beat APOCALYPSE NOW, and later DRIVING MISS DAISY beat BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY. I guess Hollywood can be only so antiwar. (As I was checking these online, an ad for the Army came onscreen.)

    Anyway, my wife and I were in Vietnam a few years ago. They love Americans now — or at least, they love our money. The Vietnam War Remnants Museum is pretty brutal — we were told that it used to be even more anti-American, which is hard to believe, but they toned it down for the tourists.

    Reading BORN ON THE FOURTH OF JULY was a real eye opener, as was Philip Caputo’s A RUMOR OF WAR and several oral histories.

    And here’s another huzzah for Warren Oates — who served in the Marines in the 1950s.


  17. 17.  15 , 16 : Apparently, Voigt’s character in Coming Home was originally going to be based on Kovic, but when he proved to be a little too edgy, sex-minded, and politicized, the moviemakers began modeling their main character after a more soft-spoken and milder real-life paralyzed vet.

    I watched Coming Home for the first time a few days ago. I thought Bruce Dern (“I want to be a hero! I just want to be a fuckin’ hero!”) did a good job, and I always like Voigt, though his transformation into Jesus Christ on Wheels by the end was a little over the top. Plus I’m generally just a sucker for the warmer, messier feel of 1970s movies.

    My thought was that ultimately Coming Home wasn’t even as much about the war as it was about the awakening of Woman, capital W, in Jane Fonda’s character, and in that way it mirrored the rise of feminism of the time.


  18. 18.  The amazing coincidence is that my Tivo thought I’d like to watch Stripes last week, and so I did. I found it odd: it was a favorite while I was growing up, but I felt that comedy had become so much more, and Bill Murray had become so much more, that it seemed childish. All Murray had to do was be obnoxious (by the standards of the day) and winning, and he charmed and made us laugh — then. Now, it just left me sort of nostalgic, but didn’t make me laugh.

    Josh, you did a heck of a job wrapping this series up. The tie-in to Bill Lee is emblematic for the artistry of your work. I’m very impressed with the research behind this last piece, and I feel enlightened and enriched for having read it. Thank you.


  19. 19.  18 : I remember having a similar reaction the first time I rewatched Stripes. I distinctly recall wondering why I’d thought Bill Murray hollering “That’s the fact, Jack” was such a scream when I’d first watched the movie as a 13-year-old. But with that initial, and inevitable, disappointment out of the way, I’ve come to really enjoy the movie, smiling (if not crying with laughter) the whole way through.


  20. 20.  Loved the whole blessed mess, but when they make this into a movie, I still like it ending with the image of a little leaguer marveling at fireworks.


  21. 21.  20 : “the image of a little leaguer marveling at fireworks”

    Oddly enough, this very image looms large at the very beginning of Born on the Fourth of July, which I watched for the first time last night.

    But yeah, in the imaginary DVD release of this production maybe I’ll oppose the general “more is better” extended-cut trend and end with the fireworks (the epilogue available in “added features,” of course, along with a documentary featuring me pausing Nam movies to check my fantasy basketball scores).

    (The edition of Stripes I watched was the extended cut, complete with the long lost, lengthy “South America” scene, which had grown to legendary status over the years. Though amusing, it was less than legendary in reality, and in some ways I wish I still had a vision of the imagined South America scene in my mind.)


  22. 22.  I was wondering whether there was an unrated cut of Stripes with a more graphic depiction of the “Aunt Jemima Treatment.” I don’t even remember a South America scene ?!but if it was in the second half of that movie than it was forgettable.


  23. 23.  22 : The South America scene was not in the original release, but the extended cut DVD (released in 2000 or so, I think) featured that scene plus a few other extra odds and ends.

    The DVD commentary, a conversation between the producer and the director, reveals that the Aunt Jemima scene was largely a Bill Murray improvisation, which made the giggly surprise of P.J. Soles all the more authentic.

    The director/co-screenwriter, Ivan Reitman, also remarks later that the “Americans have been kicked out of every decent country in the world” speech, the very dose of patriotism I rented the movie for, was consciously written by Reitman (a Czechoslovakian emigree) as an expression of his genuinely felt patriotism.


  24. 24.  This is more germane to the card than Josh’s story, but it wasn’t until three or four years ago that I could see the “e” and “b” in the Expo cap. I always just saw the “M”.


  25. 25.  Re “the carnage rained down upon the people of Vietnam”: when I visited Vietnam, I learned, among other things, that about 58,000 people died during the war in one small district west of Saigon during the war — as many Americans were killed in the entire war. Yet these people were now welcoming, and one, a very hospitable former Viet Cong commander now running a roadside pho restaurant, spent the afternoon getting very drunk with me on rice wine.

    16 : when I went to the “Vietnam War Remnants Museum”, it was still called the “Museum of American War Atrocities” or something like that.


  26. 26.  The place we camped that night actually was not a KOA but was some lake near Texarkana. We must have arrived at night because the next morning we discovered we were camped in a little triangle of dry dusty grass with dirt roads on all sides. When we went in the lake the next morning it was the temperature of bathwater. It was a great trip to Mexico. I now try to get people to go to the types of places we went instead of the places like Cancun. Thanks for triggering some memories and keep up the great writing.


  27. 27.  24 I understood that there was an “M”, but it never looked like one to me. I always saw it as “elb”.


  28. 28.  Bill Lee was certainly an interesting guy. I read his autobiography, The Wrong Stuff, many years ago. What stands out for me was his story about playing in Cleveland and wandering into the public library where he found some good books on philosophy which changed his life. As I remember the story, Bill Lee was not quite sure why he entered the public library, or why he gravitated towards the philosophy books.


  29. 29.  24 , 27 : Like Ennui, I never knew there was supposed to be more than a red, white, and blue M until long after childhood, and I even had an Expos hat that I wore often as a teenager.

    26 : Yes, I remember there was a lake. I must be misremembering the TastyKakes at that time, putting them into the memory from an earlier stop.

    28 : I just now finished rereading The Wrong Stuff. He wandered into the Cleveland Public Library the day after he smoked hash for the first time. “Feeling totally alive, I realized I had never felt so good,” he said. He had actually been to that library before, but had never ventured beyond the reference room. That day, he says, “invisible forces led me to the shelves marked philospophy and religion.” The life-changing book that he found there was, interestingly enough, the same one that had just a few years earlier changed the life of the guy driving my family’s white VW camper to Mexico and chiming in with his memories of such in comment 26 above: The Autobiography of a Yogi.


  30. The documentary mentioned in your book in the Bill Lee section I suspect is “Bill Lee: A Profile of a Pitcher” made by Bill Brownstein, directed by Bill Reid, dist. by Cinema Libre. Came out in 1981; no idea where you could even find it now.


  31. emailed Bill Brownstein through the Montreal Gazette, He replied that “Bill Lee: A Profile of a Pitcher” is unavailable but there are plans for it to come out on DVD.


  32. reignoferror: Thanks for figuring out that title and for checking out the status of it!



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