I spent a week walking the city. Saigon was whored out to the West for a long time before the war. As a result she has clean crystal Gucci stores and streets smooth as an NBA court. I deplore American foreign policy, but you can’t deny that we leave some really pretty imperial wreckage behind. If it had gone the other way, and Vietnam had invaded us, they’d have left squat toilets.
My disdain for my Uncle Sam’s foreign engagements aside, I’m still a human with the built-in design flaw of a tribal ego, so I still find it kind of annoying that we lost this war. And I’m hurt for all those penniless draftees from Detroit or Akron or wherever who had to die here so the Skull & Bones WASPs might get bragging rights at the UN. But we lost, so there were no bragging rights to be had, and so all that really happened was that 60,000 boys were sent to slaughter in service of a scheme that didn’t work.
I’d have been one of the dead, were I born a little earlier. I’m pretty sure of this because I was a weak and impressionable boy. I would have made the kind of grunt that brainwashes real well; you can fill up my entire head with just a mantra or two.
Instead, I was born later. And when I grew up the right girls dumped me at the right times, and they freed me from reality. Every rejection was another tumbler of the lock clicking open. No one wanted me, so I was free to go. I got on a plane and now I’m here.
Vietnam used to be a kill zone for the white man, now it’s an odd, pressure-free vacuum. I work enough to survive, which for the average inmate on this prison planet is all day, every day. I work 90 minutes a day. I wasn’t snared up by the nooses that get all the other young men.
You get older, and get to know yourself better. Know yourself, and know that all you are is lucky.
I left. In Saigon’s Tân Sơn Nhất International Airport I read an email from my grandmother. She asked if I knew that my grandfather was on the team that designed this airport when he was there in 1965.
I didn’t know that. He wouldn’t have told me, because he’s never told me a word about himself. He could have been to the moon, for all I know. Supreme, bulletproof, 1930s confidence. What was that like, back when you didn’t have to say a word in order to bolster your existence?