Sunday, October 31, 2010

I've begun my first novel

hello all

I've been writing my tail off...between 1,500-2,000
words a day for my novel.

I got out of the US Marine Corps on 11 May 1970,
and it took more than 2 1/2 years to get off
booze that i used to anesthetize myself from what
happened in Vietnam. But, somehow I survived.

In the spring of 1973 I was accepted into the
flexible admissions program at Boston State
College for veterans, and other adults to see
if we had the writing, analyitical or other
abilities necessary for college.

I got in, and my English teacher, a very nice woman,
told me that I wrote very well, and should write, but
I was still numb inside...dead from Vietnam, and
lacked not just the confidence, but was in so much
pain that I was just trying survive each day. As the
saying goes 'I felt like an old man in a young man's
body.'...i felt older than I do today at 60. That's
where I was at.

Then, something happened and I was more like i was in
high school...or I don't know what. And, at 25, 30, 40,
to now I acted/act more like the boy who always messed
around and made people laugh, or looked for a laugh.

But the two sides are always with me.

I left the school in 1977 without graduating. My
veterans educational benefits were cut more than a
year after I was in a takeover of the Statue of Liberty
as a member of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW).
June 1976.

I highly recommend it...taking the place over was a great
way to see the Statue. There are over 150 stairs in the
Statue, so it's really great to explore it by yourself,
or with just one or two other fellas;-)

But, during my time at BSC as we called Boston State College
a few teachers mentioned that I wrote well, but it was lost
on me. It was Vietnam, and I was trying to find my way in life,
and to make sense of my life and what I had been through in
Vietnam...what I had seen, experienced and did.

In May of 1979 I went to work at the Boston Post Office.
There were loads of Vietnam veterans working there, and by
1983 the term 'Going Postal' started to become used in US
society, and was embedded in US society by the 1990s. It
referred to outbursts of rage and violence against supervisors
and co-workers. It was primarily associated with ex-Marines
who were Vietnam veterans, though I don't know if we (i'm an
ex Marine) were in more of these incidents.

The US Postal Service had a very authoritarian style of
management. Those who wanted to rise through the ranks of
supervisors handed out more disciplinary notices. My friend,
Joe O'Leary, also joked that there seemed to be a minimum
weight requirement to be a General Supervisor(herein GS). Some
seemed...beefy? Joe was brilliant, and witty. He once saw three
GS's standing in our unit (known as 'The Carrier Station'). One
of them, Butch must've weighed about 240-280, the other were know, about 220-250. Joe went over and said to
them 'You know, I was giving some consideration to becoming a
supervisor, but I from the looks of things there some kind of
minimum weight requirement? I probably couldn't make it.'

They didn't think that that was too funny.

I've nothing against people who are weight challenged.
I have been at times; beer. One of the nicest guys at the
Post Office, and whom I had and to this day have great
respect for was 'Big Al.' It was 'Big Al' who introduced me
to middle eastern food, in particular, Lebanese as 'Big Al' was.
It has been a life long love! He told me some history of Boston
neighbourhoods, especially South End where he grew up. And the
supervisors wouldn't fuck with 'Big Al.' His temper was legendary;
but nor as bad as the stories. He'll definitely be in the novel.

If not for 'Big Al' I never would have heard of, nor ventured
into 'The Red Fez', nor been a regular, for a time and enjoyed
their Tabbouleh, Couscous, Hummus, Shish Kebab (mmmm-almost enough
to make me go off being veggie for the lamb), Kibbey, Baba Ghanouj
(a favourite), Khayer bi laben, Greek or Oriental salad(?), and
Turkish coffee with desserts. God Bless 'Big Al' for that alone,
and take him into heaven. The food will be better:-)

It was an explosive mix. Ordinary men, many of whom had not
been in combat being very bossy to the workforce, of which a
number consisted of Vietnam veterans. There was no need of it.

I became a union stweard in 1981; I was tired of the shitty union
stewards that we had, and of people being afraid of management.
And, I got ticked off at a few other Marine Vietnam veterans, and
other Nam vets, who were worried about these supervisors.

On my first night I went to my General Supervisor, Cy Dumas,
the one who terrorized people the most, and I told him 'Your
days of throwing your weight around here are over, fat boy.'
When he recovered from my insolence, he told me that he could
make my job easy or hard. I told him that if he didn't stop
trying to bully people that I would put a forward stop to his career,
and that he would never make Postmaster in Boston. He never did. And,
I told him that there was nothing that he could do that would scare
me because while he was busy stuffing his mouth with hamburgers and
milkshakes I went to Vietnam twice in the Marines, so he best change
his behavior!

I learned at the Post Office that I could write well, and had
some brilliance in coming up with arguments to defeat disciplinary
notices. I was especially good at taking their disciplinary notices,
and poking holes through their arrguments. It was fun to me.

Some I didn't deserve to win, but to me, winning and beating a
suspension for someone was everything. One that I felt a twinge of
guilt about is when I had Bobby F's 10 day suspension overturned.
It was for 'foul and abusive language.' He got into an argument with
a female clerk...and 'allegedly' used the C-word.

It looked like they had him dead to right...but I look around corners,
for every angle. I finally asked the supervisor on duty that night 'who
was the closest' to the incident. He told me, but said 'He said it, and
it wasn't nice.'

The person who was closest, was a member of our craft; Mail handlers.
And, I got the supervisor to write out the distance of the various
witnesses. Ed (let's call him that) was three to four feet closer
than anyone. Ed liked me because management was afraid of me, and
I wasn't afraid of them. And, I had helped him on some matter once- insurance or the like.

So, I asked Ed if it's true as Supervisor DG said that 'You were
the closest to the two of them when it happened?'

Ed said 'Ya.' Then, I asked Ed if he 'would write out a statement
as to what you heard and saw.'

Ed said, 'but Paul, You know i'm practically deaf?' I just said 'Ed
you were the closest, and it would help because we're trying to get
all the witnesses' statements, so management will have as much as
possible to make a decision.'

Ed said sure, but repeated again that he 'was practically deaf, that's
why I didn't hear anything...not a word.' The hardest part for me was
keeping a straight face, but I'm good at that. Inside I was saying to
myself...'That will be perfect.'

I said 'Ed, that will do just fine. You don't need to put that in the
statement. You have a right to privacy with respect to medical matters.
Just a simple and truthful statement of what you heard and saw.'
Again, Ed said, 'But I didn't hear anything.' That's okay.

Management relied on Ed's statement in overturning the suspension,
because, he was well, in his fifties, a mature man...who would not
lie. And he didn't:-) and he was much closer than anyone. Ed wrote
that he 'did not hear Bobby say anything, nor the word in question.
And, I was practically next to them.'

Bingo! Suspension overturned. Bobby, got his ten days pay reimbursed,
and the letter of suspension removed from his personnel folder. I told
him not to say that word again.

But, I did something else. I buried them in safety, fire, and
other hazard reports. I gave Mr. Dumas a few that night. I cost them...
near the end, six figures a year in hazard reports alone. The place was
a mess. So, while they went around trying to harass people I whacked them
with 'PS Form 1767 Report of Hazard, Unsafe Condition or Practice.' And,
I bought the Boston Fire Code book. I terrorized(?) them with it! I was
just helping them to do their job:-)

I was suspended three times for threatening supervivors. The first
time I hired a lawyer and won the case in the fourth step of the
grievance procedure-Arbitration. After that, I handled the letters
of suspension myself. Can you imagine it. They said that I threatened
them with what would be more than GBH. Me. Why, I wouldn't hurt a fly;-)

I was 3-0. They were 0-3. I also got other suspensions. One was because I
put in a leave request to observe the 'Feast of the Immaculate Conception-
December 8th.' They lost. And, I was suspended two, or three more times
for excessive absenteeism. One was that I had been absent about 40 out of
sixty days. Does that sound excessive to you? Of course not; that's why
they lost.

I also represented people in the filing of race, sex and disabilty
complaints with their in-house Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) office.

I wasn't a thorn in their side; I was a spear, and was out at the end
of 1985 with 40% of my pay.

But, I knew then that I had good writing and analytical abilities.

But, there was always a numbness from Vietnam; and what happened
on a jungle ridge in the A Shau valley, and some other places.
Those things have always loomed large in my life. I know that
my children have no idea...and to top it off some very ugly &
untrue things were said about me as our marriage went kaput,
separation, and divorce. I'll correct that in my novel.

But, it is Vietnam that has always been inside. The one good
thing that came from the war is that I have felt a responsibility
to 'Speak Truth To Power' no matter what the consequences. I did
less when my children were growing until the first Gulf War which I
oppossed, and spoke out against.

But, I did not use my writing talents in the way I needed to.

In 2001 I was accepted into the BCL law program at the University
College Cork, and one of the two interviewing professors told
me that I was accepted on the strength of my essay. He liked it.

I got two law degrees, almost a third, and hope to finish
the last one.

During my LLB I did an essay in Administrative law that received
a very high grade (82.5) from a tough, but fair marker. I later
heard that he had only given out a higher grade about 2-4 times before.
What he did not know, was the the essay-about 'The Regulation of the
Funeral Industry'-was good because I wrote it as a very interesting
story first, I did lots of research, and then concentrated on telling
a make it compelling. But, it had very little case law in it.

I was completing the essay, at an internet cafe, and I called my
then, good friend Billy Wolohan. He had read a copy that I had emailed
him and said it was great, but that there wasn't much case law cited
in it...and did I know that? No shit.

I told a great story, and that's why I called him. I asked if he
could bring an Administrative law 'Nutshell' book (used to cram for
exams) to the internet cafe. I needed to insert some case law. Billy
was there within 30 minutes. And I put the case law into the essay
just like I was sticking lettuce, bacon or tomatoes into a BLT. I'd
say to Billy, see right here I need something to fit in here, to back
it up with some case law. One was McCauley v. Minister for Posts and
Telegraphs. Billy already had most of the sections and needed case
law highlited. So, It took maybe twenty minutes. He deserved something
for the 82.5 I got from Professor David Gwynn Morgan. In basketball we
call that 'an assist.'

Later, I joked that if Professor Morgan knew that I got 80% of the
case law for the essay from a 'Nutshell' book he probably would've
taken five or ten points off the grade.

Later, when my thesis advisor had read my LLB thesis he told me that
I should be writing books. He was one of many. Thank You Shane; I have
begun now. In wrote my LLB thesis in a similar way... on a compelling
narritive story, but I didn't use a 'Nutshell' book for the case law.
I researched my ass off. Research is my area.

The story I am writing is true, about growing up, and what things have
happened, and that I've survived on my life's journey, but it is also
the story about the impact of Vietnam, of war on those sent to fight,
and mostly friends from Vietnam who, like me were struggling to make
sense of their lives after Vietnam as they had families, deaths and
more. And, it is funny.

No comments:

Post a Comment