“Wo – Bluebird!”
“Woe Bluebird!” Mr. Arnold said to his 1955 powder-blue Chevrolet station wagon, then stomped the brakes while traversing the most dangerous road in the world, the Emeryville turn-off from the MacArthur freeway. Instinctively my head shot back so I could see the semi plowing into us, as Mr. Arnold shot from the second lane to the shoulder of the road.
Gasping for air, I waited to hear Bill’s father inform me what the emergency was, and, could I be any help. What I heard, shocked me.
“Greg. There’s a piece of wire on the road back there, in the second lane. It might come in handy. Could you go back and retrieve it.”
Bill warned me not to work for his father, for, he was at his craziest when he was doing Civilian things. Bill told me Brian had a readjustment problem, being, he was always an odd ball, but, being in the military he was a perfect example of the Peter Principle, he quickly promoted every time he did something – so fucking crazy – you dare not put it in a military report lest it infect your record.
Brians superiors would have to provide an explination. But the Colonel was in a class by himself. This is the only sttempt to capture him with words. Only a great author like John Steinbeck, or Kurt Vonnegut could do Brian justice.
Mr. Arnold was around six foot five inches. He was, gangly, with a nose like Lincolns. Due to a bad case of acme as a teen, his face was moonish, full of deep craters. It was hard to look at Brian. He was of Norwegian stock, but his blue eyes were dull, even dead. He had ordered young men into battle. He did everything in military time. He was methodic. His observations were way off. They contstantly missed the mark. He would accuse his son of doing surreal things, which was true, but Brian’s accusations were – pixilated! The army had surgically removed him from their presence.
One night Brian came looking for Bill and I with a flashlight. I had spent the night, and after “lights out” we snuck out of the house and sat by Lake Merritt smoking ciggerettes. It was just after midnight when we headed home, only to hear this whistling. Bill grabbed me by the arm and pulled me down behind a car. Then came the whistle again.
“It’s my father! Look! Over there. He’s bending down looking for us under a car with a flashlight!” Said my dear friend, and he began to chortal.
“Here Billy! Thristle! Thristle! Here Billy!”
The first night I stayed in the Arnold house, I was treated to a memorable show. Bill couldn’t wait till I saw it. He had waited his whole life for The Witness to come. And, there I was in a easy chair in front of the T.V. Watching the Twilight Zone with all the lights off.
Suddenly, something caught my eye, off to the left. Something was crawling on the floor. Bill has spotted it, but quickly looks at me, he on pins and needles to see if I saw it, he desperate to behold my reaction. With a mad glint in his eyes, his face lit by the strobe affect of the Television set, Bill watches me take it in, and then struggle to believe what I’m seeing. It’s Mr. Arnold. He is dressed in white long johns, and he is crawling on the floor. I watch him as he go past the dining room set, into the kitchen, and, here he come again after going down the long hall.
“What? Why? Huh!” I quietly utter.
“He’s exercising before he goes to bed!” Bill quickly explained, then studied me even more intently. This was My Final Test. The Witness was here. Could I hang with the Arnolds. There is no greater need for a friend who can assure you your perceptions are correct.
Could I accept the truth there is a mad man living in the Arnold House?
As Brian came round for a third pass, Bill jumps out of his chair, stands over his father, points his finger at him – and lets go an extremely loud and exaggerated laugh! I can’t believe what I am hearing – and seeing. This is a show of complete insubordination – and disrespect. Bill’s laughter – is insane! I study the crazed look in his eyes as he humiliates the Colonel to the core of his being. And, now I am in deep trouble because I am starting let go a hardy laugh, because I get it. This is real human comedy about the war of wills between a man who wants his son to be just like him, and follow in his footsteps, but, there is resistance, a rebellion Brian refuses to acknowledge. The last person Bill wanted to emulate, was his father, who looks up at Bill, and says;
“Ho! Ho! Yourself.”
That did it. I am fighting with all my might to keep my great guffaw in. I am being relentlessly tickled. I am utterly thrilled at the idea I might any second show the colonel total disrespect. I can’t hold out much longer. Oh my God, here he comes again!
Bill is admiring me, my respect for my elder, something he had lost long ago. Bill’s scheme was to get The Witness in his home, and make him laugh at his father, too. Hence I have taken a lot of mind altering drugs, but, noting has ever altered my perception of reality as this experience. I had not met Brian before. And now he is standing up doing his twenty tugs with the spring exerciser, he pulling his arms out to his side as the springs made strange noises. His dead blue eyes are now taking me in. This is the monster I had heard about from a freind, who saw the welts on Bill’s back on the playground – before we lay eyes on each other.
“So. You must be the boy my son tricked into helping him wash the widows. What’s you name?”
“Greg!” thankful I no longer felt I would snort all the snot out of my nose.
“Well, Greg. You will soon learn my son is quite the trickster.” Brian said with the most stoic voice I will ever hear, it his belief his son was – his cross to bear.
* * *
At fifteen years of age I now contemplated my pending death. The smart thing would have been for me to look at the colonel, and with all earnestness, say;
“Mr. Arnold. Could you please drive me home. My mother told me not to play on the freeway. If you can not afford a piece of wire, I’m sure she would pay for it.”
This would be paramount to cashing in all my chips, for I had arrived, at the crucible, the human truth that sums up our time on the planet. As I studied the handle to the Bluebirds passenger door, I knew I would be drummed out of Arnold World if I did not make the choice and own the right stuff. I shot Brian a glance to see if there was another way, but, his stoic face was doing a thousand yard stare, he looking at an old battle ground. I now understood. The Colonel was not asking me to go get that wired on the road, he was ordering me, for I was on the clock – real army time. It was just a myth that he was – let go.
When the Colonel heard the click of the door opening, his inner being let go a great sigh. As I heard the great rush of autos and semis rush past like ghost riders in the sky, I got it, what Bill got, being, ninety nine percent of human history is made when we obey the whims of mad men.
I had come to the proverbial fork in the road. As I walked against the oncoming traffic, where no man dare walk before me, I knew there was no going back. This was my moon walk. I was in for the duration. My eagle had landed!
If my mother knew what I was doing, Mr. Arnold would be dead.
As I squinted to spy what Brian had spotted on the freeway, I understood this was material for my autobiography, that is, if I ever become famous. The year is 1961. Not but 500 hundred yards away, and is the Oakland Army base where Brian was discharged, he landing here on a plane from Japan a year before I met him. Brian had not become famous. Eight years later I find myself on a city bus, on the army base, at three in the morning. I had gotten drunk in San Francisco. Looking out the window, I gasp at the sight. Hundreds of soldiers have just been scooped out of the jungle in Vietnam, and flown to Oakland. They are all staring at me. This long hair hippie the first civilian they beheld back in the States. It is like the night of the living dead. Their eyes are like black saucers. They are all in shock. They have received their last orders……..
I was the only one on the bus, and was in the spotlight when the driver opened the door. No one got on board. I’ll never forget the faces of the young men as they approached and looked me in the eye. They wre wondering what to do, where to go. They were waiting for green ghost buses to take them – God knows where. They knew they were being disapeared. I wasn’t susposed to be seeing this, making a mental note. This scene may be the first illustration for this book. It was an ugly and haunting scene. But, not without, beauty. The truth – is beautiful.
The greatest lie ever told in my Nation, was we hippies denied our peers a ticker-tape parade. These ex-soldiers were candidates for the funny farm. Something had gone terribly wrong. The brass that wanted to make a name for itself ignored the reports that said you can’t put soldiers in a place where they fear for their lives every second – for two years!
I spotted the wire on the road, and looked for an opening. Cars and trucks coming round the bend would not see me in time to apply their breaks. I had to ge this rght! I made a mad dash for it and scooped up the foot long piece of copper wire.
Safetly back in the emergency breakdown lane, I studied Mad Mr. Arnold’s face as he looked at me in the rear-view mirror. I held his wire up for him to behold, like the Olympic torch, and it broadcast the rays of the sun like – Excalibur!
When I got in and buckled-up, he turned to me and said;
“Good going. I’m proud of you!”
World War Two was was declared over, everywhere, but the Arnold home, where there was one more human will to be broken.