By RICK ROSE
About 300 meters from the main entrance to the headquarters complex at Long Binh, Vietnam, at the side of an often traveled paved road , sits a nine-year-old boy named Cao. He wears a bright red baseball cap, for he knows that newcomers have been told by the more experienced to watch for the boy wearing that hat. He relaxes beside a United States intrenching tool designed for digging foxholes and temporary cat-hole latrines. He is waiting for his customers, who sometimes number over fifty per day.
As a jeep appears over the rise of the hill, he rises and looks inquiringly at the occupants as they slowly cruise toward him. As the jeep passes Cao, he nods to acknowledge that he has seen the three fingers flashed by the driver. Picking up the shovel, he vanishes into the thick underbrush at the side of the road, where MP's (who want to go home as badly as everyone else) are not likely to follow. In two or three minutes he emerges to await the vehicle once more, the jeep which did not stop, but which instead continued another 200 meters before turning around to head back. The transaction is momentary and impersonal; a quick exchange of three one-hundred piaster notes, or three one-dollar bills in Military Payment Certificates (far more valuable on the market) for three packages of Kent cigarettes. The packages have been carefully rewrapped and appear on the outside as new. Each contains twenty joints; the original paper plus the mi-cronite filter surround the marijuana which has only recently replaced the tobacco (now being sold in small bags to itinerant Vietnamese laborers on the other side of the highway). No words are spoken, and the jeep moves on after stopping only long enough to require shifting into first gear. . .
It comes as little surprise to Miss Vuong Thi Hong that a G. I. stands at her register counter at the PX waiting to purchase not one, but three plastic soap dishes. They cost only a dime and are so useful in keeping the rain off of things stored outside in the weeds or behind the sandbags lining the buildings.
At dusk the G. I. 's begin to slowly filter out of the dining hall, alone or in small groups, well-fed and tired after a twelve hour work-day, but eagerly aware that the next ten or twelve hours are theirs, within understood limits. There is a band at the club, perhaps with a dark-eyed stripper from the Phillipines. Beer only costs 15 cents a can, and today it had been hot beyond description. The band will play "I Want to go Home, " "Knock on
Wood, | "To Sir with Love, " "My Girl, " "Long Tall Texan, " "Stars Fell on Alabama"--the same as always, but maybe, just maybe, that girl will take off all her clothes and really grind on the floor, providing refreshing memories for at least a few hours later, out there in the darkness. And there is a movie, a spy movie, with some skin. Alert status is White, no sight-
ings, and all artillery sounds are outgoing.
The First Sergeant watches them move off in various directions, mentally keeping track of new associations and carefully assessing the mood of the blacks. He has only three more years until retirement to the ponds and streams of Arkansas, and the nervousness about having one of these black bastards or one of these crazy pot-heads blow him away with a grenade has been on the increase lately, especially since the fighting had died down to a stand-still. But I know my troops, he thinks, they don't really hate me enough to kill me. I've studied them for years. But these niggers with their wristlets and these smart-ass ed pot-heads with their fairy beards. , . got to watch them, at least when it is light. Best stay away from their groups at night. Besides, they do their jobs, so I can't fuck with them too much. New modern Army. Shit.
The darkness is total, only sounds and smells remaining. A distant murmur of shellings. The rumble of heavy trucks carrying tanks of purified water to the kitchens and showers. The choppers on night perimeter observation. An occasional whoosh of a signal flare. Beer cans opening and hitting the gravel floor of the building used to shelter the troops watching the movie. And in every hootch, one of the twenty men living there has his sounds, the Beatles, or Johnny Cash on tape. The air is spoiled with gasoline odors, the unmistakable stenches of burning shit and insecticide. . .
"Did you try any of the stuff yet? "
"Couldn"t. Captain Taylor was in the shack all afternoon. Hutch smoked it and siad it was about the same as the last stuff. "
"Where is he now? "
"Well, let's do it. Today was a bitch. "
"They all are. But they all count. Not many more for you. "
"I still don't feel it. Gruber said he doesn't even feel short, and he's down to eighteen. His replacement came today. "
"Are they still going to make him work. "
"He said he wasn't sure, but he didn't think so. Sergeant Clark is a pretty good dude. Of course, it's up to the Lieutenant, who is a prick. Gruber said it really didn't matter to him. "
"Hey this stuff tastes different! Or else it was the pineapple on the ham. "