All right Father, I can hear you thinking impatiently, “for God’s sake, enough with the snow! Get on with it boy! What happened after the so-called Big Bang?” Ok, Father. Just remember, however, I’m not the great storyteller as you.
Sure, I used to hold my friends spell-bounded with my stories, something I must have gotten from you and Mother, but that was the spoken word. This writing stuff is something different.
But let us forge ahead anyway. As to be expected, Father, things started getting really weird in America after that. The Bomb was not only an enormous, destructive explosion, but it was also a particularly “dirty bomb,” as the scientists later explained to us.
That means that Manhattan is still off-limits, even some 54 years later. Could it have been 54 years, Father? Wow, that’s longer than most white people live these days! I’ve been hanging on longer than I ever knew, especially since everyone around me are dropping like flies.
Meanwhile, stupid, damn, dumb-ass fools are always being arrested for trying to sneak into Manhattan, looking for all those diamonds and other valuables buried underneath all of that red hot rubble!
In a few years, President Bush was voted out of office. We didn’t know it at the time, but this was going to be the next to last time we voted directly for our leaders.
By the way, Father, we found out who set off the bomb. You probably guessed it anyway. It was homegrown, not some mad terrorist from abroad. The last straw for the small group that carried out the nefarious deed, was the release of two news items that became the big deal of the day.
The first, which garnered little attention at first, but slowly became a major scandal, and did more to undermine America’s great confidence than any Big Idea from Russia or those crazy-ass dudes from the Mid-east—was so horrendous in its implication, that even someone as apolitical as I, wanted to hang someone.
It seemed that as far back as the last century, the automobile and oil industries knew that at the present level of consumption, the world as we knew it would become unfit for human life. They knew it! Their own scientists said so! Our government also knew about the secret documents that outlined the deadly results.
They also knew how to build vehicles that wouldn’t kill the earth, but worked in concert to suppress any such invention from coming on-line.
They were willing to kill their own grandchildren to live in the moment of great wealth, to show off in the pages of Forbes! What madness, Father.
The other bit of news that caused a sensation was the definitive proof that Mars once had thriving life forms, and what we know as civilization.
But something happened to their world, and they lost their climate, and everything turned to rust, and gradually disappeared, leaving just a bare trace of what had been. It was only when we sat foot on the planet and started to explore did we uncover the clues.
Now most scientist believe that it was Mars that first breathed life into earth; that we were contaminated, if you will, either by conscious probes, or by just pieces of Mars breaking off and landing in our oceans.
In essence, we are Martians!
Now, I guess that got your attention, Father! I told you that my century was interesting. The idea that we are really Martians is an old idea that sic-fi writers have been playing with for centuries. But now we had proof.
Well, anyway, Father, the group that blew up Manhattan put two and two together as far as they were concerned. The Martian’s probably destroyed themselves by not taking care of their environment, they reasoned in the Manifesto they finally issued.
The same Manifesto, we learned later, that caused President Bush to order us to stand down, and quit wasting precious resources searching for phantom enemies.
Our backyard enemies believed that our culture, the American example, had to be put to an end, or if not, we earthlings were going to go the way of the Martians. The long, closely-held secret the government, the oil and car industries hid from the public, proved to them, once and for all, that the culture of greed could not be reformed, but had to be destroyed.
So why not a new Manhattan Project?
These people were a secret cabal of scientists from a small college in Vermont. During their sensational trial, all work stopped all across the world, as everyone sat riveted to our screens.
Who were these people who could kill so many of their fellow countrymen? What on earth could have possibly driven them so mad?
You have no idea how this act shook the collective consciousness of America, Father; more so then that incident in your time ever did. In the confusing, chaotic days and months following the bombing, even as I did my duty for my tank Battalion, I was numbed. And I saw the same numbness in the eyes and body language of the men and women who served with me. Even tough old Colonel Bird seemed to be walking around as if in a dream.
I looked in on him one night in his office, and saw that he was in tears.
Sorry sir,” I said. I was embarrassed at catching him in such a sorry state.
“Oh, come on in, Major,” he said, looking up at me. A half-full quart of Jack Daniel sat before him. He spoke with almost a sound of relief that I had broken him out of the deep funk he was in.
He wiped his eyes with his hands. He did not return my salute.
“Have a drink,” he said, motioning to the bottle of bourbon. I wasn’t much of a bourbon man, too strong, too 20th Century for me. But out of respect, I sat down and poured myself a small one.
“Blackjack” was not what many would expect of an American tank Battalion Commander. He was small, Chinese, with tiny dark eyes. His family had been in this country since the 1840’s, and he spoke with a distinct Southern accent.
He sat slumped over in his chair, looking smaller than usual.
He didn’t have a loud voice, but there was something about him that could intimidate, and make his body and voice seem much larger than they really were. He could fill and command a room just by his being.
And he clearly loved the role that fate had so artfully dealt him as he strutted about, giving us orders, and telling us confidently how we ruled the world.
I once asked him how he got the name “Blackjack?”
He smiled at me, revealing little. He loved playing these kinds of mind games. “’Blackjack’” sounds like a real ass-kicker, don’t it, Major?”
“Yeah, I would say so, sir. I would say so.”
“Well the truth is, I play a mean game of blackjack. And poker. It’s my Asian face.”
The Colonel broke into a loud laugh. I had known him for three years, but never had I heard him laugh like this.
Now this new voice, a voice I had never heard before either, a voice I couldn’t conceive coming from someone like him—a voice that was low, old, tried, shaken, confused.
He slowly wiped his dark eyes once again, and did not appear to be embarrassed by my catching him in tears.
During his real life, when we weren’t playing at being military, he worked on Wall Street, and was very successful at what he did.
On that fateful day, as I walked the beach talking with Mother, he also couldn’t bring himself to leave his stately, comfortable home in Bronxville and go into his office.
“I was just sitting there, talking to him on the DYE, talking to Larry, for Christ’s sake. Good old Larry. We spent a year together at Old Miss. I transferred to The Point. He said, “you crazy, Bird!” We stayed in touch. Known him for so long. He ran the place really, Major. I’m running around the world with crazy folks like you. But good old Larry. I always wanted you two to meet. So much alike. Good old Larry. Arrogant bastard! Best-dressed man I ever knew. He was part black like you, Major.
“Said dressing was a black thing. What does that mean, Major? You know what the last thing he said to me just before the screen went black and he disappeared forever?”
“No sir,” I answered.
“He said, ‘That’s an ugly damn robe you wearing, Bird!’ Those were his last words. Arrogant bastard! I don’t how many times I wanted to fire his arrogant ass. Had gray eyes, just like you have blue eyes. But I never did, Major. I never did. Arrogant bastard. Smart as all hell.
“For Christ’s sake!”
I looked down at my glass, saying nothing. What could I say, Father? There was much despair in Colonel Bird’s voice.
“I saw the flash, as far away as I was.”
“I saw it as well, and I was all the way in Brighton Beach.”
“Yes, it was really something, Major. The goddamn DYE just went blank and poor Larry just disappeared. Why do you think they did it, Major Litvinova? Why? Why kill so many people? You would have thought we learned something? Killing people like that only brings on more killing. They should know that? What do they want, Major?”
All who had witnessed the flash and the loud explosion wanted to talk about it to everyone we met more than anything else. So I understood, Father. I also knew that the Colonel’s world had totally collapsed, more so than mine, although neither one of us knew what we were going to do next.
His office in Manhattan, like mine, was gone, reduced to nothing, along with good old Larry and hundreds of his friends and colleagues. He could have been there, arrogant, a good dresser, just like Larry; just as I could have been sitting at my desk, trying to think up yet another clever slogan, for yet another clever movie.
But there was a big difference between the two of us, Father. He was the king, the big fish, the real Master of The Universe, who strode mightily into his huge office with a look of great confidence and power, while I was a medium sized fish, still flirting on the edge of real power; close, but not quite there yet. A Major.
I had no answer for the Colonel. I felt slightly ashamed of myself. Maybe I would have had an answer if I only had paid a little more attention to those warners. Maybe we shouldn’t have spent so much time in clubs, laughing and drinking, and having a great time? Maybe we should have read more books? Or any books.
“I don’t know, sir. I really don’t know,” I finally answered. I keep staring at my drink, lost in as much confusion as the Colonel. But I no longer felt any embarrassment at sharing this quiet, no longer awkward moment with a strong man, an old friend, and a trusted colleague in the greatest army on earth. I felt honored to be sitting here with him this evening, sharing a drink together.
I knew that we both felt small, weak and out of control of the very essences of our being.
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