Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Chapter 2: Mr. Kim and the Filtration Plant

My closest friend and co-worker during my year in Korea was a lieutenant named Fred Yamada. He was from Honolulu, a civil engineer in the real world and a sanitary engineer in the army, having completed his crash course. Unlike me, he found toilets and septic tanks understandable and interesting.
One day early on, Fred said to me, "Doc, you haven't been to the filtration plant."
"The filtration plant? Oh, I guess I haven't. Am I supposed to?"
"Well, I'm supposed to inspect it, and you're my boss. So you're supposed to supervise me."
"When should we go?"
"How about now?"
"O.K. Why not?"
First we stopped to say hello to Colonel Wilson. Fred explained to me that when you inspect, you always see the officer in charge first and on down the line so as not to slight anyone. Colonel Wilson was the District Engineer. That made him commander of the filtration plant, although when it came to matters of plumbing and such, he was as ignorant as I. That wouldn't have been so terrible if he hadn't allowed it to bother him. But he lacked that quality of leadership that allows one to deal with one's ignorance constructively.
The colonel greeted me warmly and explained how he didn't mind when inspectors came around because, "In spite of having to deal with non-military personnel and slope labor, I run a tight ship and have nothing to hide." Then he told me that he liked me. He then started telling me about some guy by the name of Harry Cohen who owned a shoe store in his home town and how Harry was a good friend of his. He also imparted that after his rotation back to the States next year, he would only have one year to retirement.
In front of the filtration plant was a huge sign that read, "This plant is built and maintained by the Trans-Pacific Architectural Corporation for the U.S. Army" and contained a large corporate symbol (like some medieval coat of arms) which was a fire breathing dragon with TPAC tattooed on its right paw and the American flag on its left. TPAC was an American private company that had a contract to build and maintain various facilities for the Army. Its job was to please numerous Colonel Wilsons in various facilities in the Far East. The managers were Americans, and the workers were Koreans.
A phenomenon I have observed on a number of occasions is that when private enterprise works for the government, it undergoes a metamorphosis. In its effort to please the government, it becomes more government-like than the government itself. This was characteristic of the upper echelons of TPAC, although not of Mr. Smith, the manager of our filtration plant, or Mr. Kim, his assistant and chemist. Mr. Smith was a tall bald man in a wrinkled short sleeve shirt and baggy slacks, pleasant and business-like (no chit-chat). He was like many talented Americans working in far away places. One wonders why they are there, away from family and familiar surroundings. Are there no jobs at home? Yes, but these are often people with a handicap, either real or imagined. Smith's handicap was alcoholism. Alcohol had destroyed his American family and his American job. But out here, TPAC was lucky to get an American with his abilities, drunk or sober.
Mr. Smith first gave us a briefing in his office, describing the plant with charts and graphs. All I remember were pipes going this way and that. Then there was a tour (more pipes, tubes, and pools of water). At the end, he wished me a good year in Korea, invited me to visit the plant as often as I pleased, and left Mr. Kim with us so that Fred could do his thing with his check list. Fred went from gauge to gauge marking down numbers, followed by Mr. Kim and a band of Korean workers. Suddenly Fred pointed out something on the gauge to Mr. Kim who slurped a Korean slurp of emotion and barked orders to the men who jabbered back and forth and then turned dials until whatever was wrong was back to right. Later Fred told me the problem had been minimal, but "its always good to shake up the troops."
I heard little about the water plant through the autumn. The problem began on a particularly cold night in January when Mr. Smith went on one of his monthly drunken weekends. Not to say that he didn't drink in between, but by the end of the month his unhappiness reached a crescendo and required an intense blow off. On this occasion he got into a fist fight with an equally inebriated young soldier in a bar in Ui Jong Bu. The soldier ended up in the MASH with a broken jaw, and Mr. Smith was locked in the Ui Jong Bu jail with a black eye. Colonel Wilson received a call about three o'clock in the morning to come and get him. Not only was the colonel awakened in the middle of a frigid night, but he was treated to an hour of Smith's alcohol perfumed insults on the way back to the post in a drafty jeep sliding around on an icy road. The next day Smith was fired and went south to Pusan to live with an old girl friend.
That week there was a great flap at the TPAC office in Seoul with phone calls to and from the home office in San Francisco, inter-office memos, hand wringing, and arm-pit sweating as a great effort was mounted to find Mr. Smith's replacement. Actually things at the water plant were handled very well by Mr. Kim and his crew with Fred making his regular checks. But the situation did not please Colonel Wilson. He was beholden to a Korean who knew infinitely more about water purification than he, supported by "that Jap young lieutenant". He also wasn't overly thrilled with "that Jew doctor."
So TPAC had to produce a Caucasian American filtration plant manager quickly in order to maintain their contract and their collective sanity. Who happened to be available at the time was a recently retired tank officer by the name of Frost. He knew anything you might want to know about tanks and nothing about water filtration, but he breathed, walked, talked, and therefore could wear the hat. Frost was a pleasant man. His presence satisfied Colonel Wilson and allowed Mr. Kim to do his work. He spent most of his time at the officers club of the Fighting Bulls tank battalion where the bar has a foot rail made of tank treads, and one can discuss old tank battles over a stein of beer with people who can truly appreciate such stories.
During that period, I had occasion to see Mr. Kim a few times, but one meeting was particularly enlightening. I had accompanied Fred on a routine inspection. Afterward the three of us sat down in Kim's small cluttered office for some conversation over tea. I asked Mr. Kim at which university had he studied chemistry, and he responded, "I have never studied in university. My training is all on the job from Mr. Smith. Also I read many books, whatever I can find. You know, my position here is very difficult. I am not American. So I have no authority. But some day I will go to U.S. to study at an American university. I will tell them I only go to study, then return to Korea. But I will never come back."
The winter ended. Spring came. There was a little flap when our drinking water turned brown. At dinner in the Officer's Mess, some lieutenant would invariably hold up a glass of murky water to my nose to complain, "Doc, you expect us to drink this shit? What are you doing about it?" But after a few days, Fred and Kim solved the mystery and corrected it. It seems our water intake was downstream of Tongduchon. As Fred explained it to me, some stuff was deposited into the water as it passed through the Vill. The water then passed through our filters and after that reacted with our chemicals to make a sterile but brown colored precipitate. Fred and Kim solved the problem by reversing things, chemicals first and then filter.
Fred rotated back to the States the end of May. His replacement was due at some time in the future. Two days later it began to rain, and it just kept raining on and on. Two weeks into the rainy season, one of Mr. Kim's associates came into my office dripping water and handed me an envelope, saying, "Letter from Mr. Kim. You read." The letter said that the rain had brought new problems requiring decisions outside Mr. Kim's minimal authority. With Lieutenant Yamada gone, Kim had no one to turn to. Mr. Frost found his job more and more incomprehensible and responded by spending more time with the Fighting Bulls. Colonel Wilson, under pressure from General Fritz, the Division Commander, would rant about "firing everyone and making a fresh start," but fear of the consequences kept him from carrying out his threat.
Kim had heard through the grape-vine that Mr. Smith would be willing to come back if invited and that he would be in the area ostensibly to visit old friends, but Kim knew that actually he was looking for his old job. A clandestine meeting was arranged at the PX cafeteria. Over milk shakes and coffee, Mr. Kim, Mr. Smith, and I plotted our strategy. We would go over Colonel Wilson's head through my boss, Major Fratelli the Division Surgeon, to his boss Colonel Mc Hugh the G2, to his boss, General Fritz.
The next morning, I presented the story to Mike Fratelli, emphasizing the potential health danger, and how if anything happened it would be our medical rear ends that would be fried. Mike, a general surgeon by training (nothing to do with Division Surgeon) and therefore a man of action, immediately led me over to the G2 building (quonset hut) where he demanded an immediate audience with Colonel Mc Hugh. We then presented our case.
Mc Hugh said, "You know, Mike, your young doctors are inexperienced. They aren't army. It took me seven years to reach captain, and that's pretty good, but they step right in. You're asking me to talk down another colonel, a regular army man with a lot of history under his belt. I'd have to have a better reason to do that. And the General doesn't like bickering among his men."
"Look George," Mike called Mc Hugh by his first name, "If there's an epidemic of cholera or some other exotic crud because of the water, it'll be our asses, especially yours because I've informed you."
Nonetheless, Mc Hugh had to consider the matter. A few days later, Fratelli told me between cusswords that the "dumb ass" McHugh was too "chicken" to confront Wilson and "too dumb" to understand the problem, and "that's what happens when dumb ass lay people tell doctors what to do, and that dumb ass Mc Hugh is my superior and told me to forget it, and as your superior I'm telling you to forget it, and this is the Army, damn it!"
The word filtered down from me through Kim to Smith who then left for the city to take up residence with a new lady friend in Yong Dong Po. Within a few days, the status of things changed drastically. In the morning, I crossed the bridge that connected my BOQ (bachelor officers' quarters) from our office. Ordinarily it crossed over a small stream in a narrow crevice far below the bridge, often barely a trickle, but now it was a wide deep swift gurgling river, sweeping down the hillside and lapping at the bridge. Later that morning the sound of rain on the roof of our quonset hut office changed from ping, ping, ping to whoosh. Looking out the window, it seemed a solid mass of water was crashing down on the already drowning earth. I looked back at the bridge but did not see it. "I usually can see the bridge from this window. No? Yes? Yes, the bridge is gone. It's really gone."
By afternoon when the rain let up somewhat, we were in the middle of a flood, a real natural disaster. When I was a kid, I thought of floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and that sort of thing as episodes in the movies, dangerous, perhaps fatal, but clean. Actually a flood is mud, filth, motionless toilets, dry faucets, dark nights, silent telephones, and warm refrigerators.
The first two nights were flashlights and groping around. The Engineer Corps (soldiers as opposed to the District Engineers who were civilians contracting with the Army) came out quickly, efficiently put up new bridges, and started the electricity. But the water was slower. For a month one flushed by pouring a barrel of water down the toilet, and bathing meant finding a far away obscure place called the shower point, so instead one smelled bad most of the time.
It was necessary to make the water drinkable once it started coming out of the taps again. Mr. Kim had a plan which Fratelli and I only half understood but proposed to Colonel Mc Hugh. By now Mc Hugh was under pressure from the General to "do something about the water." The next day Colonel Wilson was out looking for Mr. Smith, and after much pleading over a crackling telephone line, he induced Smith to leave Yong Dong Po and return to his former position.
Gradually things returned to normal, lights and refrigeration, water from the tap, and the most blessed of all, flushing toilets. Colonel Wilson finished out his tour grumbling about "the drunk and his Gooks and the Kike doctor who took their part against us." Mercifully, Fred Yamada's replacement arrived, a young lieutenant from Ohio, a nice guy, well versed in sewage and stuff like that. His name escapes me. The rains were followed by a hot, humid summer, the air strongly perfumed with fermented cabbage called kimchi from the Vill and the feces that fertilized the rice fields.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Memories of Korea

I spent one year as an army doctor in South Korea during 1964 to 1965. I have written a collection of stories about American soldiers in Korea during that period. It is mostly fiction but based on my experiences, the experiences of people I knew, and some things I heard about from other people. I'll start with a table of contents and will publish the chapters in future posts.

Table of Contents

1. Leaving Home
2. Mr. Kim and the Filtration Plant
3. Joe Brown
4. To the Field in Winter
5. The School Girl
6. Dr. Fishberg
7. Passover
8. The Assembly
9. The Cannibal Ambulance
10. Mr. Professor
11. Going Home

Chaper 1: Leaving Home

I received my draft notice when I was an intern. It really does say "Greeting." Along with it came a letter saying something to the effect that, being a doctor, I could enlist as a commissioned officer. Our hospital medical director suggested preventive medicine to me. "The Army has crash courses and training manuals in specialties that they need, and they always need preventive medicine officers. It's a better deal when you're a specialist."
Since I was interning in Washington, D.C., it was a simple trip downtown to talk to the man who did the placing of army doctors. "I would like to be a preventive medicine officer and I would like to be stationed in the States. Anywhere in the States will do although I have a preference for Fort Sheridan since I am from Chicago."
"You're a dreamer. However, we have a place for you as a preventive medicine officer in Korea."
"I think I would rather do general medicine in the United States."
"Actually the alternative is probably general medicine in Vietnam."
"Well I think Korea sounds like an interesting place, a chance to travel, see new places, a tremendous experience, really broadening." And my year of internship in Washington was supposed to have been my big adventure away from home before doing residency back at the University of Illinois, but fate does what it does.
So off I went to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas for four weeks of basic training and six weeks of preventive medicine lectures. To appreciate the depth of my training, you should realize that a real preventive medicine doctor puts in a few years of residency training and a life-time of experience. That's life in the Army.
South Texas is very hot and muggy in July, August, and early September. Mostly we went to lectures about how to be a soldier and later the basics of sanitation, a lot about how to dispose of feces, urine, and garbage. A group of us got together and rented an apartment in a building with a swimming pool which really made the summer bearable. The Army issued us these inflatable rectangular things to put under sleeping bags, like mattresses. They were great for floating in the swimming pool.
We spent about three days at a primitive place called Camp Bullis, where they gave us a taste of the real basic training. We slept on hard cots in dingy wooden barracks. One night, they deposited us in a wilderness, and we had to find our way out with a compass. Fortunately we were in groups, and there is always someone (an outdoors person) in the group who knows how to do that sort of thing and leads the rest of us out. Also, they took us to a place where we had to crawl over rocks and under barbed wire while they shot real machine gun bullets over our heads and made explosions in wired off holes in the ground scattered around the course. First we did it in the afternoon, and then we repeated it at night. There were some hot shots in the group who felt the need to complete the course quickly and be winners (although I don't recall any prizes being distributed). I, on the other hand reasoned differently. I took my time. I was careful not to hurt myself. After all, those rocks were sharp, and of course so was the barbed wire. So what if I were the last, or for that matter if I didn't finish at all? What would they do? Kick me out of the army? Not so likely. Once I came to that conclusion, I could relax, and it was actually fun. I was able to detach myself and enjoy the beauty of it, especially at night, the red tracer bullets whizzing over head, the explosions in the holes, like I wasn't really there but just watching a war movie. When every one else had finished the course, and I had gone barely half way, the bullets and explosions suddenly stopped, a search light went on, a bull horn shouted out, "I think some one's still out there! Is someone still out there?"
"Yes, I'm still here!" I shouted and waved my arms"
"O.K. Come on out! We can't wait for you all night!"
I was lucky to have learned this technique early. It made my stay in the army more pleasant. Perhaps under different circumstances, it would not have been appropriate, but fortunately I never ran across those kinds of circumstances.
I should mention that San Antonio is a very nice little city to visit. It has museums, restaurants, amosphere, and a wonderful entertainment area along the San Antonio River.
Then in late September, I returned to Chicago for a week. After that my parents drove me to the airport. It was a bit emotional. By chance, I happened to sit next to another army doctor draftee on the plane to San Francisco. We had a few hours in San Francisco before going to Travis air force base for the flight to Korea. My newly acquired traveling companion suggested we spend it having a drink at the top of the Mark Hopkins Hotel. Why not? So we took a bus into the city and a cab from the bus station up Knob Hill to the Mark Hopkins. I spent a half hour or so sipping whatever it was that I ordered. The sun was setting, bringing the day to an end, which reinforced the idea that one part of my life was finishing, making room for the next. I looked around at the people in the room, handsome men, beautiful women. They seemed so well dressed, so sophisticated, so much at ease, not going anywhere else because they were where they wanted to be, in their own element, satisfied with themselves. I'm sure that's not really how they all felt inside their own heads, but it seemed that way to me because I felt so unsettled, so ill at ease, not actually knowing what lay ahead of me in a strange land.
The time for the drink was brief. The sun had almost disappeared from view. We paid the bill, went down the elevator, took a cab to the bus station, took the bus to the air base, waited hours for the plane, and then around one o'clock in the morning we boarded the plane. There were two stops, one during the night in Alaska and another in the morning in Japan. Finally we arrived at Kimpo Air Base in Korea.
My orders originally were to go to Inchon, but on arrival in Korea, I found that they were changed to Camp Casey which was the headquarters of the Seventh Infantry Division. It was located at Tongduchon which the soldiers called "the Vill" but was actually a city of one hundred thousand people, most of whom made their livelihood by serving the American soldiers or other Korean people who served the soldiers. The end of town which faced the entrance to the camp, was full of bars where a few thousand local "business girls" met their customers. Also there were endless shops that sold various trinkets. There was one shop that had a large sign that said, "We Will Do Anything."
Staring out the bus window on the road to Tongduchon was like looking at a photo in National Geographic, rice paddies, small houses with thatched roofs, skinny little men carrying huge packs on their backs, buffalos (not the American kind), bicycles, rickety overloaded trucks, the rarity of automobiles, an endless sea of pedestrians, the smells of Kimchi and feces mixed together. I am told that since those times, South Korea has developed into a modern country with one of the most powerful economies in Asia. But you really had to look below the surface to see it in those days.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Letters to Kafka

This short story is a sequel to Franz Kafka's story, "A Report to an Academy."

from: G. Affe
Baltimore, Maryland, United States of America
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
August 6, 1923
Dear Franz,
I have arrived in America, and it is a wonderful country. It is so free, and there are so many people, so many kinds of people, that someone like me can get lost in the crowd.
I don't know how I can thank you enough for doing so much for me ever since we met and became friends back in Prague. You have done everything for me, everything. You helped me write my report to the Academy. You helped me break away from Professor Schnutz who wanted to keep me as some specimen in his laboratory to be poked and questioned by armies of students and scientists. You helped me to find work, an apartment, how to get around, in other words how to live as a human being. And when I became tired and disillusioned with being a human, you wrote to your cousin Rebecca in Chicago who is employed by Professor Rabinowitz, the only man in the world able and willing to change me back to my former state, so that I can be what I was meant to be.
This letter is so brief because I must now leave for the train station.
Forever your friend,
from: G. Affe
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
August 20, 1923
Dear Franz,
Please forgive me for not writing sooner, but so much has happened since I arrived in Chicago. I met your cousin Rebecca, and I must say she is beautiful, surprisingly beautiful. How can it be that you are cousins. She is so lovely, and you have such big ears. Please pardon my honesty. You have many excellent qualities, and I will always be indebted to you for the kindness you have shown to me, but you do have big ears.
By the way, your cousin does not call herself Rebecca among her friends and associates, but rather Ramona. She says that Rebecca is an old fashioned name given to her by her old country parents with whom she has very little in common, being a modern woman. She refers to her father as the "peddler." I then imagined your uncle to be like the peddlers I remember from Prague, tired, pale shriveled bearded old men in tattered coats pushing pushcarts and calling out in the streets. But when I met him, I was surprised to find a worldly, well dressed, slightly graying but robust business man, actually the owner of a rather fashionable clothing store on Michigan Avenue, which is the very fashionable street for shopping in this city. Apparently your cousin is an ardent communist and uses the word peddler in a derisive manner to describe any business man.
Ramona has been very helpful to me. I have only been here a few days, and already she has found me an apartment near the university in the Hyde Park quarter. She has taken me around to see the city. And what a beautiful city it is. There is a lake that looks so big like the ocean. And there are parks that stretch for many kilometers along the shore. There are many tall buildings and so many museums and theatres. Everything is so new. When a house is a few years old, they tear it down and build a new one. I had thought when I was taken to Europe that I had seen everything , but this land is quite different. I am wondering if I truly want to return.
Tomorrow I have an appointment to see Professor Rabinowitz, or I should say Doctor Rabinowitz. In this country they use the title professor less than we do.
Your forever grateful friend,
from: G. Affe
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
August 24, 1923
Dear Franz,
I met Dr. Leonard Rabinowitz. Before the appointment, Ramona had prepared me. She said that Dr. Rabinowitz is an ambiguous man, and it is this ambiguity that she can not understand. I think perhaps your cousin is like you in that respect, in that she can not accept ambiguity. If I could not accept ambiguity, I do not know how I would survive. Ramona said that on the one hand Rabinowitz is a brilliant scientist with a scrupulously logical mind, and on the other hand he is a devout Jew. To Ramona, the two conflict. She often accuses her employer of being a hypocrite. To this he replies, "You're a hypocrite only if you tell someone else what to do, and I'm not telling you what to do. I can believe or do whatever I want, whether it does or doesn't makes sense to you or anyone." If she persists in the argument, he starts on her communism, "If everything has to be so scientific, why are you a communist? Karl Marx's basic ideas were just unproven fabrications. You accept them on faith. So why is your faith so much better than mine?" The argument usually sticks at this point, having reached an impasse, and ends with both of them pouting for a few minutes before things return to normal. It never seems to actually harm their daily work, and to the doctor's credit, your cousin remains employed.
Dr. Rabinowitz questioned me about my motives in wanting to be transformed back
into an ape, "You find human life so distasteful that you want to return to being an animal?"
"No, I admire humanity. It has opened my eyes completely. That is why I have agonized over this decision. It is truly a painful one."
"Then it must be that you miss your family."
"No one is left."
"Then why do you want to return?"
"Because I am not completely one of you. No matter what, I can not completely grasp your ways. People always sense that there is something strange about me. Being human is a charade at which I can not be successful."
The doctor explained to me that transforming my body would be relatively simple, a matter of surgery and some injections of an ape serum extract. The more difficult part would be changing my brain back to the intelligence level of an ape. Professor Schnutz published most of his work in scientific journals, but he left out one key step in the procedure. That was his way of keeping it his own secret. It was unscientific but very Schnutz. I know only too well.
Dr. Rabinowitz has written to Schnutz trying to persuade him to reveal the step. I do not think he will have much luck. Meanwhile, while we are waiting for the reply, Ramona and I have been seeing each other quite frequently. I have become somewhat fond of her, and I think she has some feelings for me. But I must not allow our friendship to become more than just that because we are different. We could never. What am I thinking about? She probably only thinks of me as something to help, an African ape who never quite became a European human and certainly can not become an American, but must return to what he truly is.
Before I finish this letter, I must tell you that Ramona took me to one of her communist meetings. The discussion was about how the poor workers were going to take over. But the members were all intellectuals. There was not one factory worker among them. The meeting was held in a large well decorated home, and there was a maid in a black dress and a white apron serving refreshments. Most of them recognized that there was something strange about me. Some stayed away and glanced sideways. Others were overly friendly in a forced awkward manner. The meeting ended in a song, "The International", a nice tune but not enough rhythm.
With greatest friendship,
from: G. Affe
Kingstown, British West Indies
to: Mr. Franz Kafka
Prague, Czechoslovakia
November 2,1923
Dear Franz,
You must forgive me for not writing over so long a period of time, but so much has happened. To my surprise, Dr. Rabinowitz received an early reply from Schnutz. Despite vigorous attempts to dissuade me both by Ramona and Rabinowitz, I insisted that the transformation go on. For two months, they and a team of specialists performed the difficult operations and the painful injections necessary to change my body. But then, when they attempted to transform my brain, Dr. Rabinowitz discovered just in time that the information sent by Schnutz was incorrect. It would have resulted in my death. So, Schnutz was still Schnutz. Furthermore, we found out that Schnutz had left Prague for the British West Indies with a group of apes, all but one recently transformed into creatures resembling humans.
Dr. Rabinowitz could not make my body human again because too much surgery had already been done. I could not have survived another series. Without Schnutz's secret, it seemed worse to me than ever, a human mind and soul in an ape's body, a freak forever.
Therefore, I decided that I must find Schnutz and finally get the correct information. Ramona volunteered to accompany me. I argued that it would be too dangerous for her, but she insisted, and it is true that an ape can not simply travel alone, unimpeded, no matter what is in his brain. And so Ramona began the journey with her pet ape, first by train across southern America to New Orleans City where we boarded a small ship for Kingstown in the British West Indies. Here we consulted the authorities and found that indeed Schnutz was not far. He had purchased an entire small island. They thought there was something odd about him and his actions, but not enough to warrant interference.
The next morning, Ramona hired a small sail boat. It seems she is an experienced sailor because her hobby has been sailing on Lake Michigan, the large lake next to Chicago. She enjoys sailing even more than communism. We approached the island late in the afternoon. As we neared the shore, a guard appeared from behind a bush with a rifle shouting at us to go away. I could see that he was an ape-man, an example of Schnutz's work, but not as good a job as I was. We continued. He fired one shot that missed us completely. But then a volley of machine gun fire spat at us from the bush, ripping our sail to shreds, and sending splinters flying in all directions. Water poured in from holes in the sides of the boat. The boat turned over, and we were dumped into the water. Ramona and I found ourselves clinging to each other and a board in the swirling water. How we survived I do not know, but the waves carried us somewhat down the shore and threw us up on the beach in a small cove hidden by rocks. We collapsed, stunned, and slept for hours without moving from that spot.
Suddenly I was awakened by a scream. Ramona had opened her eyes to find an ape staring down at her, and now he was unsuccessfully trying to cover her mouth with his hand. I jumped up, grabbed the creature, and wrestled him to the ground. In the midst of the struggle, the ape grunted ape grunts to me. At first I did not understand. It had been so long since I had heard or spoken my native tongue. But, after some repetition, I realized what he was saying, and I stopped fighting. We both stopped, stared at each other, and then. Was it true? Yes! We threw our arms around each other with tears of joy. It was my cousin, Grog. It had been so long.
Grog had been with me when I was captured in Africa. It had been the four of us, Ooga, Googoo, Grog, and I taking a stroll in the jungle, when the hunters threw a net over us. Now, Franz, I must tell you something that I have never disclosed to you before. I have also not told Ramona. It is very complicated. I was romantically involved with Ooga. In fact she is my mate, and Googoo is her son, or I should say, our son. Apes do not have formal marriages like humans do, but for apes that suffices.
The complication is that Ramona and I, during our acquaintance and all the adventures which we have shared, have become more and more fond of each other. How cruel fate is, that just as I am halfway on my irreversible journey back to apehood, we realize our love. Ramona is willing to accept me as an ape, despite the impossibility of the situation, and my willpower has its limits. I was ready to give in, despite my better judgment, and might have forgotten my old love Ooga and our child, Googoo, or at least could have regarded them as a dim memory, like a dream long past.
But now seeing Grog jarred me back to reality, the reality of being an ape, from an ape background, with an ape family. That is where my commitment is. Anyway, Ramona carrying her principles of complete equality to the extreme was able to, in fact was driven to choosing an ape as her love, but I am afraid the knowledge of having to share with a female ape and her ape child would be too much, too primitive, even for Ramona.
Grog speaks only ape language, and Ramona speaks only English. So, I would translate, eliminating whichever part I did not want one or the other to know. Grog led us to a nearby cave where we spent the next day.
Grog told me that after I was transformed into a human and separated from the others, Professor Schnutz sold Ooga and Googoo to a representative of an American zoo and kept Grog as a control ape for future experiments. That is why he is still a full ape. It seems the professor had been quite dissatisfied with me because he had made me too human and therefore rebellious. So in his subsequent experiments, he perfected the apemen. They looked something like humans and had human dexterity, but they lacked full powers of reason and were slavishly dedicated to Schnutz. He had brought them to the island to breed them and train them into a powerful army which would form the nucleus of a new empire with Schnutz as emperor. This would be an empire dedicated to reason, that is reason Schnutz style. That means agreeing with anything Schnutz says as long as it sounds scientific.
I transmitted all this information to Ramona, except the part about Ooga and Googoo. I told Grog about all that had happened to me since I had left Africa and why Ramona and I had come to the island to get Schnutz's secret. Grog explained that it would be no easy task. Schnutz was living in a bamboo fortress surrounded by a high wall guarded by many apemen. Even if we could reach him, he would not want to divulge the information. There was also the matter of whether I truly wanted to complete my re-transformation. Ramona had been kind enough to accompany me on this adventure, but actually she opposed my further change for fear of losing me altogether, preferring half a man to no man at all. As I have already said, by this time my own resolve was weakening. But no, I had to go on. Seeing Grog and hearing of Ooga and Googoo put things in their proper perspective.
That day we formulated a plan of attack. The enemy had a fortress. They outnumbered us greatly. They were better armed than we, namely they had numerous rifles and machine guns plus one cannon, while we had no formal weapons at all. So how could we possibly make a plan? Well, they had their advantages and so did we. We had two true apes, expert at swinging from tree to tree, although I must admit that I had to brush up a bit. The apemen had all lost that ability. Schnutz had stupidly placed his fort in the thickest jungle with tree limbs hanging over the walls, thinking that would afford extra protection. He was not a military strategist, even though he considered himself an expert in all matters. Machine guns were stationed all around on platforms inside the fence, but the cannon being too heavy for a platform was positioned behind the one gate ready to blast an enemy who might somehow manage to break through. Behind the cannon was a path leading directly to the shed where the ammunition was stored. Schnutz reasoned that direct access was necessary to provide an unimpeded flow of shells to the cannon.
So our plan was this. Using the element of surprise, Grog and I would swing from the trees over the wall to the cannon, overpower the cannoneers, and open the gate to let Ramona in. Then the three of us would turn the cannon around and fire at the ammunition shed causing an explosion that would cause panic among the apemen. Then in the confusion, we would run into Schnutz's palace (the biggest of the bamboo houses) which we reasoned would not be destroyed by the explosion because of its distance from the ammunition shed. We would then capture Schnutz and force him to give us the papers with the secret information.
Actually, everything went as planned up to a point. We did actually swing over the wall, overpower the cannoneers, open the gate for Ramona, turn the cannon around, and blow up the ammunition shed. Unfortunately, we underestimated the intensity of the blast. We were lucky to have ourselves received only minor bruises when a burst of hot air blew the three of us and the cannon out the gate just ahead of an enlarging ball of fire that did not quite reach us but which quickly consumed the entire bamboo fortress and the surrounding trees.
We picked ourselves up and stared at the inferno. We could never enter to find Schnutz, and there was probably no longer any Schnutz left to find. Then, because the forest around us was burning up, it was necessary to run away ahead of the flames to the beach. The beach guards, having seen the explosion and fire, were running about in confusion. There was a row of small boats lying on the beach. We took one and set out into the water. Despite our urging, the guards, who no longer cared about bothering us, refused to follow. They could not leave their Schnutz. After a few hours, we were picked up by a patrol boat that had been attracted by the fire and were taken back to Kingstown where we made a full report to the authorities. We were lucky to be alive but saddened by the loss of life that had occurred. It has been a sobering and exhausting experience.
I will never be able to complete my transformation, but I do not mind that. In fact, the question was never completely resolved in my mind. Now events have relieved me of the burden of having to make the decision.
Enough of my own problems. Franz, I was very sorry to hear of your recent illness. I worry about your neglect of your health. You must not keep such late hours. You must eat enough nutritious food. You must drink hot milk.
Your concerned friend,
from: G. Affe
San Diego, California
to: Mrs. Rebecca Rabinowitz
Chicago, Illinois
August 20, 1924
Dear Rebecca:
So much has happened since I left Chicago that I hardly know where to begin. First of all, I must extend my condolence to you on the untimely death of your dear cousin Franz. Your grief is equal to, in fact surpassed, only by my own because Franz was truly a good friend, a great friend, my first friend and benefactor in my life as a human. His death has left a void in my life which you might fill through frequent correspondence.
Also, I wish to congratulate you on your recent marriage to Dr. Rabinowitz. I hope for both of you the greatest happiness because you have been true friends to me. I must admit that some months ago I would have considered it most unlikely, you forsaking communism and atheism to become a middle class religious Jewish housewife. But after all, nothing is obvious and anything can change. Anyway, you and the doctor love each other in a way that you never could have loved an ape. Oh, perhaps in thought but certainly not in deed, and deeds are what matter.
Things have gone well for me. As you know, Grog and I came here to be voluntary residents at the San Diego zoo when I learned that Ooga and Googoo are here. I must
again apologize for waiting to tell you about my mate and child until so late in our
acquaintance. I understand your anger at that and my subsequent departure. It must have been a shock, and I can not forgive myself for that cruelty. But your later letter to me after time and reflection displayed great understanding, kindness, and a proper perspective. For us it was, of course, impossible.
So now I am quite happy with my family. Ooga is as beautiful as ever, that is in an ape's eyes. Googoo has grown so since our separation. He is so smart. He has learned many tricks and is the favorite of the children who visit the zoo. I have developed a good relationship with the zoo director and have become a translator and mediator between the apes in the zoo and the administration. In this way, I have settled many grievances and misunderstandings. I even plan to travel to other zoos from time to time to advise on ape affairs. Some time if I have business in Chicago, we will see each other again and reminisce about old times.
Your special friend,

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Music or Drums

Be it music or drums,
Take life as it comes
Unless you can change it,
Of course for the better,
At least a little bit
If not to the letter.