Flaskaland
Monday, January 03, 2011
 
In Venice, every single vet, especially ones from the Korean War, had a blue cotton bathrobe hanging somewhere in the pad. These were hospital-issue from the military or VA hospitals. I used to think about writing a play where beatnik conversations and philosophizing took place around a table with a few characters sitting in those robes and drinking small cups of espresso. The robes had changed color and style through the years. In the second world war, they were striped and long. For the Korean vets, probably because of budget cut-backs they were one color, a slightly darker than robin's egg blue, and a little shorter, around knee length. I used to imagine writing such a play because it seemed that's what was happening anyway in some of those beatnik pads.

There was a big VA hospital in Santa Monica, just one town over from Venice. And that's why in part I think so many vets found their way to Venice and the beach.

Most of the guys had ongoing problems and to get any kind of help, they'd sometimes have to enlist the aid of an organization known as "Veterans of Foreign Wars" which they would join and pay small dues and everyone would sometimes have to gang up on the hospital just to get treatment. And sometimes there would be a report that so and so finally got his foot surgery, so it was hurrah! a small victory there to be celebrated.

And the war in Viet Nam was beginning to take off, and here were people from the last one still waiting around to get in line at the hospital.

(So of course one of the characters, named "Tommy", would have to wear a legionnaire's hat with havelock* just like Captain Gallent of the French Foreign Legion. Hey ... wait a minute! That might just have some currency today. Let's stick in another character a psychologist named "Ellis" just to keep the literary pretensions going .... Of course nowadays they would have to meet at a Starbuck's)

But, really, I was sensitive to these issues as my mom seemed to be brought up in a household in the South were the cast offs from society were sent to live with each other and help each other through life. The blind grandmother. The unwanted child of vaudevillians. And soon another relative appeared, a grandfather or an uncle, nearly destitute who'd lost his leg in the first world war (which was a recent war when my mom was a kid), and he would experience horrid pain around the lumps of the amputation. And my mom's job would be to sit at his feet as a child and he had his pant leg rolled up and pinned and she would gently massage his painful lumps with cloths dipped in warm water. From the great war to end all wars then (WWI) to the big one in between (WWII), to the war a little later (Korea) to the war that was happening then in Venice (Viet Nam), it was mind-boggling to consider the veterans from WWI were still alive when Viet Nam was beginning to rage.

Ever after, for the rest of her life, my mother always donated a small amount of money to disabled veterans. She'd buy the red paper poppy for a dime. Or she'd mail a little in to a disabled veteran's organization of some kind. Even when she didn't any money to speak of herself.

Everybody had these relatives and these experiences, because there was a draft back then.



*A 'Havelock' is the name for the piece of cloth that hangs from the back of a hat to protect the neck from sunburn. First worn by soldiers in the Indian Mutiny and named after a British commander involved in the campaign: Major-General Sir Henry Havelock.
 




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