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Mushroom Montoya circumnavigated the globe aboard the USS Trippe DE1075 after killing soldiers, woman and children in Viet Nam. Now, as a shaman, he heals the planet one person at a time. Mushroom Montoya has an active shamanic healing practice in Long Beach, California and he teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Cal State Univ. Long Beach.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Mail Call

Excerpt from Chapter 11, Mail Call
The whop, whop, whop preceded the announcement on the intercom of a chopper's arrival. I ran up the ladder to meet my helicopter fire crew and assemble them at the Helo deck. I opened the repair locker and distributed the firefighting and rescue equipment. My primary function was to be the ship’s firefighter, the scene leader in charge, especially in the combat zone..

...As the helicopter descended slowly onto the deck, one of the helicopter crewmen lowered the anti-static cable to the sailor, who was wearing the cable glove. Grabbing hold of the helicopter's cable, the sailor attached it to the ship's anti-static cable that was attached to his glove. Once safely connected, he removed his glove from the combined cables and ran over to where the rest of us were standing. Permission was given to land. Whop, whop, whop, the helicopter blades slowed to a stop.

Only one of the chopper's crew jumped out onto the Helo deck. The setting sun, behind him, allowed only his silhouette to be seen. He turned around and pulled out a large bag and placed it on the deck. It was the mail. I smiled, along with my entire fire rescue team in anticipation of getting a letter from home. The ship's postman signed the release that the crewman had given him. He picked up the mail bag, threw it over his shoulder and, looking like a young Santa Claus in July, hobbled down to his office below decks to sort out the mail. When the chopper flew off, and we finished putting away our rescue gear, I hurried down to the galley and stood in the crowd of sailors waiting for the postman to arrive. It always seemed to take the postman a long time to sort the mail and take it up to the galley. And today was no different. While we waited, we talked about past letters that we received from girlfriends and our parents and wondered if the questions that we had asked in previous letters would get answered.

All eyes were glued on the postman when he entered the galley, carrying a large box with letters and a few packages. Taking a handful of letters in his hand he began calling out names. We waited like kids at an elementary school raffle. Those who weren't waiting in the mess decks were on watch or battle station. The postman would deliver their mail to their racks, later. But for now, those of us in the galley waited and hoped for our names to be called. As each sailor's name was called, he ran up grabbed his letter and ran out of the mess decks. My feet twitched at the announcement of each name. I wanted to grab the letters out of the postman's hand and search through his box. I hoped that the postman would call my name and that I would receive a letter from someone, anyone. I always looked enviously at anyone who received a letter from home when I ended up empty handed. Mail call always felt like playing a slot machine; someone always won. And when it wasn’t me, I felt forgotten and lonely.

Cigarette smoke billowed out of Matty's mouth when he said, “Damn, he's only got two letters left; I hope one of them is mine.”

“Montoya! You got a letter, a post card and a package,” called the postman.

“Wow! I hit the jackpot!” I yelled and I ran up to the front to get my prizes. A smile erupted on my face while Matty's eyes looked down, almost as if he were going to cry. I looked at the return addresses, a post card from a friend from firefighting school, a letter from my friend, Kathy, and the package from my parents. I had just passed through the galley door when Matty caught up with me. He was an eighteen year old radioman from the Bronx. He reminded me of my younger brother, only taller.

“What's ya got in the package?” he asked. “Cookies?”

“If we're in luck,” I said. “Come with me to my berthing compartment and we'll see.”

I took out a pair of scissors and cut open the brown paper bag wrapping and string. I pulled out the letter that was on top, and set it aside.

“What's in there? I wanna see,” said Matty.

“Hold on to your horses. Wow! A bag of homemade tortillas and venison jerky.”

I pulled out the jerky and read the note. It said that my grandfather had gone hunting and he made some jerky. My fingers became uncoordinated with excitement as I struggled to remove the clear cellophane wrapping. I lifted out a piece of jerky. When its odor hit my nose, I said, “Oh shit!”

“Oh shit what?” Matty asked.

“The venison has mold on it. Hand me the letter. I want to see when my parents sent this to me.” The date on the letter was three weeks ago. My heart sank. I felt cheated. “Damn humidity and damn this war. Well, so much for the jerky.”

“Gee, that's too dad, Mushroom. What about those tortillas? They look thicker than what I usually see.”

I took one of the tortillas out of the plastic bag and sniffed it. It didn't smell moldy. But when I took a bite, the sour taste made me spit it out. My eyes drooped and I hung my head down low. I wanted to cry.

“Isn't there anything else?” Matty pleaded. He looked as dejected as I did.

I pulled out some photographs. Under the photographs I felt cardboard, the bottom of my package, or so I thought at first. “We're in luck!” I exclaimed, pulling out a yellow and brown box. “Ginger snap cookies! My favorite. Here have one while I read my letter.”

“I didn't get a letter,” he said, his shoulders slumped. He took a bite out of the cookie and smiled. “Can you read yours to me?”

Hola Hijo. Cómo estás?

“Ah sucks,” Matty said as his smile flattened. “I didn't think that your letter would be in Mexican.”

“It's not in Mexican. Mexicans don't speak Mexican any more than Americans speak American. I'm just teasing, you Matty. It's written in English. There is not much too it. Here, you can read it.

It just says that they hope the food is still good when I get it and a couple of notes about my son.

While Matty read my letter, I looked at the photographs in the box. When I pulled out the third photo of my son, I slapped my thigh and said, “Hey, look at this photo of Jeremy, he's covered in flour. They wrote on the back that he wanted to help make tortillas for me.”

Matty took a look at the photo and grinned. He said, “My mom has a photo of me covered in flour too. I was helping her make my birthday cake when I was about 3, like your son. What's the other letter say?” ...

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Being Vulnerable

Excerpt from Chapter 15, Viet Nam Body Count:
[ Life give us opportunities to practice being strong, to practice standing up for ourselves. Often they come when we feel vulnerable. This was one of those opportunities.]

I turned off the shower and rubbed off the excess water from my arms and legs. Pulling the curtain open, I stepped out to get my towel from the sink across the room. Before I finished my first step, Chief Jaffe and two other chiefs came into the shower room and blocked my path.

I felt very uncomfortable standing naked, in front of the three chiefs.

“What drugs are you taking?” Chief Shea asked.

“The only drugs I take are those malaria pills that give the whole ship diarrhea.”

He continued asking questions, often repeating the same questions worded only slightly different from the first.

Feeling the air around my exposed genitals as the water began to evaporate made me want to jump back behind the shower curtain. I didn't want to be naked in front of the three chiefs. As I tried to make my way around them to get my towel, Jaffe jumped in front of me.

“Where do you think you're going?” he asked, clenching his fist. “We aren't through talking to you.”

“I'm getting my towel. Do you mind?”

Chief Shea and Chief Garfield smiled sheepishly as they moved out of the way, while Jaffe's bald head regained its familiar fiery red hue.

“What are you trying to pull?” Jaffe yelled as I reached for my towel.

By now I was mad. No longer afraid of Jaffe, I yelled back, “What are you trying to pull?”  I wrapped my towel around my waist. “Why did you bring two chiefs with you to yell at me while I was taking a shower?”

“You're doing drugs!” he growled.

“You're lying and you know it,” I shot back.

“Only someone who's crazy on drugs would run around the smokestack screaming every fucking night.”

“Killing innocent people is driving me crazy. I have to scream.”

“That's fucking bullshit. You're doing drugs.”

I stuck my neck out and looked Jaffe right in the eyes. “When we had the last locker inspection, did you find any drugs?”

“No. You must be hiding them somewhere else.”

“You didn't find drugs because I don't have any. I'm not stupid. You're the one who is trying to pull something.”

Jaffe's neck muscles pushed out the tendons as his whole face became the color of rage. “You aren't doing your job!”

“I came in here to take a shower so that I could do my job, like I always do,” I said.

Chief Garfield's lips contorted into a forced smile as he put his hand on Jaffe's shoulder telling him that his cause was lost.

If there had been no witnesses, I am sure that Jaffe's anger would have unleashed his fists and I would have had wounds that needed bandaging.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Nerve Gas Protection Training

In Damage Control school (Treasure Island, across from San Francisco) we were taught how to protect the ship and how to protect ourselves. We were taught about nerve gas and other biological war agents. In the event of a real nerve gas attack, we were taught to inject atropine into our thighs first and then inject the rest of the crew. Since I was the class leader, I was the first person to stand in front of my classmates and take a tube of fake atropine with a syringe needle that looked like the size of a 16d nail. (OK it really wasn't THAT big) and stab myself in the thigh. And then I had to squeeze out the tube of fake atropine (saline water) before I removed it. This was not a fun activity.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Across the Gangplank

I walked across the gangplank,
Onto that all too familiar ship,
Knowing all too well
That I could tumble
Into very deep holds.
I walked across anyway.
I slipped on an unkindess
Of loose and slippery thoughts
That shoved me down
Ladders and passageways,
Headlong into violent memories.
Memories that I had thrown,
And re-thrown,
Over and over again,
Into that very deep hold
Far below decks
Under the chain locker
Of my busy life.
The memories tied my naked body down.
They sewed my eyelids
Wide, wide, wide open
With threads of tiny jagged seasalt.
They poured a waterfall of sharp,
Stinging visions
Of soldiers running,
Of Hueys zooming to and fro,
Of MiGs screeching overhead
Of our five-inch gun blasting
Over and over and over again,
Over my face until I cried,
Oh please stop!
I don’t want to see this again.
I don’t want to feel this again.
I don’t want to die like this again.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Crossing the river into Olongapo

We docked in Subic Bay after spending too much time in the Gulf of Tonkin in the summer of 1972.

“…A little beer will do you good. And you could buy yourself a better fitting pair of pants. The one's you're wearing are huge. Come on.”
I acquiesced. I really did need a smaller pair of pants. As we crossed the river that separated the base from Olongapo City, well-tanned boys stood in chest high water yelling, “Hey, body! Throw me coin.” The way they mispronounced buddy as body made me think that the word, body, was more accurate than buddy.
“How can they fucking stand the smell of that shit in the water, much less, swim in it?” Barry asked.
We held our breath as we walked across the bridge. The boys continued pleading, “Hey body, throw me coin.”
One of the boys standing in the brown fecal smelling river looked like he could be one of my little cousins. Reaching in my pocket, I tossed a couple of dimes to him. He caught one and dove into the shit brown water to hunt for the one that bounced out of his hand.
“Oh, fuck!” No way could I do that,” Barry blurted. “I swear, my grandfather's fucking outhouse smells better than that shitty river.”
“Thank God, Barry, we didn't grow up here, having to swim in that sewer of a river just for a few coins.”
“Let's get the fuck outta here. My nose hairs are starting to fuckin singe,” he said as we sped the rest of the way across the bridge.
Olongapo City had a carnival atmosphere. The aroma of skewered beef cooking on a small black grill was a welcome relief from the putrid smell of the river.
“That's probably monkey meat.” Barry said, “It tastes good. You ought to try it.”
I rolled my eyes, “Get real, Barry. When is the last time you saw a monkey in Subic Bay?”
“This morning. He's your..”

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Saturday, February 2, 2019

MiG Attack

“General Quarters! General Quarters! This is not a drill,” came over the loudspeaker again as I donned my helmet and life jacket. The hair on my arms stood straight up. My knees began to shake uncontrollably. I looked at Otis, his face much whiter than normal, and said, “For as often as they call General Quarters, you'd think we'd be used to it by now.”

The ship shook as our Mk-42 cannon fired several rounds. The machine gun blasts were muffled in the interior of the ship. I had opened the damage control repair locker and busied myself looking inside, taking a mental inventory of the location of the emergency equipment we would most likely need.

“I hate this fuckin shit, waiting down here, not knowing what the fuck is going on topside,” Otis said. “They never tell us a goddamn thing until it’s over.”
“All Clear,” came over the loudspeaker. “Eight MiGs have been diverted. 

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