Short Fiction Spotlight: “The Lothario from an Unknown Zone” by Bob McNeil

A man-sized mosquito descended on 43rd Street and 7th Avenue amid a warm afternoon. The horrific creature’s presence made me scream. However, my legs, quite inexplicably, could not flee the fearsome scene. Amazing still, I was the only person who noticed the otherworldly invader. So, as a result, I concluded the scenario was a hallucination. My confused brain felt like a strange terrain. I did not enjoy dwelling in it without the weapon of reason.

The being that defied a logical category stopped and stared at the metropolitan masses. Fascinated by the pedestrians, cars, and buildings, the creature used one of its legs and reached under its left translucent wing. Right from beneath that aeronautical appendage, the thing pulled out a camera. Fearful of its appearance and amused by its actions, I unexpectedly laughed. Taken aback, I concluded the weird winged entity was a tourist, if you will, a shutterbug.

Any notion that my day could not get more unearthly flew away when a naked woman approached the inexplicable vermin. This lady on the street was Aphrodite of Knidos incarnate. Mystifying yet true, she hugged the insect. The being, thereafter, fondled her with desire.

Unconcerned with the masses around them, they walked hand in hand towards the Hotel Retcher. Silent as a leopard, I followed them. Unfortunately, at a distance of around ten feet, I could not hear their conversation. An orchestra of car noises and crowds obscured any chance of hearing the discussion.

The bizarre pair entered an ill-famed tan-colored hotel. Known for its cheap fee, murders, suicides, bed bugs, and filth, the 24-story establishment was appropriate for them. Already registered there, neither the insect nor his mate went by the greenish-white front desk with numerous clocks above it. I, overcome with curiosity, looked at the clean pate of a pale clerk who was gazing in a westerly direction.

East of understanding what was going on, I followed the couple into a lobby that looked like the 1970s threw up all of its cheesiness on the place. The vomit was composed of a mirrored ceiling, pleather-adorned lavender couches, machine-made marble columns, and Polywood tables.

Fear prevented me from entering the same elevator with the two beings. Unconcerned with me standing outside of the closing doors, they hugged and kissed. Obsessiveness made me look at the display of ascending numbers on the wall. Staring upwards, I saw that they got off on the thirteenth floor.

Either perversion or concern, term it what you want, motivated the following action. I got on the next elevator after them, and it was surprisingly quick. It was fast enough for me to observe the couple enter room 237. Aware of my presence, they both turned around, stared at me, and slammed the door. Accepting my stalker status, I was impervious to disgrace. Undeterred, I resumed my investigation.

Hesitantly, I walked out of the elevator. A crud-and-bubblegum-dappled reddish carpet met my well-worn teal sneakers, and sneak I did. My oracular sense was Orwellian when I went to the room and got a keyhole view of their activities. No amount of bizarre internet searches or horror movies could have acclimated my mind to what I saw next.

Standing upright, the humanoid pest presented its long and erect member. Irrefutable exultation was tattooed on the female’s face while her legs bestraddled two wings. Either because of the stinger it stuck into her foot, or the phallus stuck in her orifice, she screamed in a way that reminded me of mating cats. From then on, the couple utilized just about every known position in the Kama Sutra for about an hour.

Sated with their mating, it appeared the two were ready to rest. Moments from falling into fatigue, the female turned towards her male counterpart and said in a blissful whisper, “Promise me that you will not get this buzzed for some huzzy.”

Pausing for a moment, her surreal inamorato responded in a tone that sounded similar to an electric saw. He said, “Only a bugged-out being would forsake you.”

At peace with the answer, the female cooed then fell asleep.

Amid her snores, the male got up and crept towards the door. Afraid of being discovered, I inferno-footed down the hallway by the time the thing opened its means of departure. Somewhere safely away, I saw the mosquito come out of the room.

Cupped in the odd anthropoid’s limb, something on the order of an iPod sat. He whispered, “I’m waiting for you, lovable owner of my libido, on the thirteenth floor.”

More or less, the distance between us was equivalent to 100 feet. Furthermore, I hid behind the corner of a wall that led to another section of the floor. Unluckily, my shadow revealed where I was.

Each of my eyes has hundreds of lenses, and they all see you, annoying voyeur. You want to know who I am, don’t you?” the creature said after spinning its head in my direction.

Sheepishly, I peered around to view the freakish speaker.

Let me reveal the guy behind the disguise,” the surreal spieler said as it stood up and turned into a tall nude man. That was not what amazed me. What summoned enough awe to make my heart quake in my chest was the newly made human form changed its colors over and over again. No joke, for quite a few minutes, it donned every shade known to humanity. I mean, it was black, then white and every hue in between. Obstructed by the distance, I could not make out miscreation’s facial changes.

I am as humdrum as a housefly. 20% of the male population that cheats in relationships is no different than what I am. Based on your expression, the General Social Survey (GSS) stat does not make you adore my existence. Nevertheless, you have known and will know more men of my kind.”

Pleased with his last declaration, he laughed, pitched the phone aside, and transformed into what I assumed was an English mastiff. Not being an expert, I think its skin had a brindle look to it.

No sooner had it transformed, another female trod out the elevator. This other lady reminded me of a fertility goddess I saw in a book. Aside from being nude as well as zaftig, her pallor and hair were stone-grey. Her voice, contrary to her size, was small and tinny.

My dog, are you still sugary and servile? Am I still your only mistress?”

Of course, I’m a loyal whelp,” the canine replied in a low growl.

That ended their exchange as the two took the elevator.

Fixated on information, I bolted over to the lift. Numbers above the machine indicated they went all the way down.

By way of the stairs, I ran to the ground floor and out onto the street. For my effort, all I got was sweat. The duo went somewhere beyond my two viewfinders.

The clerk peered out the entrance and asked, “Sir, is something wrong?”

I replied, “It bugs my brain the way some men are more promiscuous than dogs.”

Confused, he tilted his head leftward while I rightly questioned the saneness of mine.

The End

© Bob McNeil 2020 All Rights Reserved.

Hospitalized Factory of Pain by Zakary McGaha – Book Review

Review by Ben Arzate

After a doctor commits a massacre at a hospital in Grenade City, causing it to be abandoned, a skeleton wearing a suit takes up residence in the building. Charlie, a young man who survived the massacre, decides he wants to learn to how to use guns to protect himself and his grandmother. Meanwhile, Hobart and Ruckus, two old locals, seek to exorcise the demons that have been causing havoc in Grenade City.

What does evil hate, and fear, the most?

Hypothetical…maybe even rhetorical..-

answer: humiliation.”

Hospitalized Factory of Pain is probably best described as a horror comedy. There are lot of hilarious moments and even the central premise gives a lot of comic possibilities. In the world McGaha creates here, demons fear humiliation more than anything. This results in the book’s demon hunters, Hobart and Ruckus, mocking demons to fight them. The most memorable moment of this is when they dress a possessed person up in a platypus costume and deride the demon as being a dumb platypus until it leaves its host in sheer embarrassment.

Several plot threads run through this novel. The main one is about Charlie, a dim young man who wants to learn to defend himself after surviving a massacre by a doctor possessed by a demon in the hospital. He’s eventually taken under the demon hunter Hobart and Ruckus’s wings to assist them in fighting the demon’s terrorizing Grenade City. Along the way, he also learns about his unusual family.

McGaha does a good job of balancing the storylines for the most part. One section of the book is dedicated to exploring how Hobart and Ruckus became demon hunters. It’s an enjoyable story of the two rowdy boys standing up to a bully and learning in detention the school janitor is an expert on demons. It’s my favorite part of the book and could easily work as a separate short story.

It makes for an interesting contrast with the more surreal and fantastic Mr. Wrinkles storyline. Mr. Wrinkles is a skeleton in a suit who takes up residence in the hospital abandoned after a mass murder. There, he sets up a sort of factory where he tortures ghosts to create a substance which he bottles and sells. The reveal of why he does this is an interesting one.

McGaha likes to break the forth wall, and does so several times here. However, there are times where the fourth wall breaks don’t contribute much or feel out of place, especially at one point where one of the characters does so rather than the narration. It’s the only time a character in the story does so and it reads like a mistake rather than an intentional break in the fourth wall.

The ending, while fun to read, does move a little too fast. McGaha brings all the storylines together, but they feel like they’re collapsing in with how quick the pace becomes. It also makes some of the plot lines, such as Mr. Wrinkles’ reason for creating a substance from tortured ghost, seem like they could have used more development.

Despite that, Hospitalized Factory of Pain is an entertaining and hilarious horror comedy. McGaha has a way of mixing engaging, fast-paced storytelling, weird and creative ideas, and action in a way that reminds me a lot of Joe R. Lansdale. This is a novel well worth your time.

The History of BigBoobenstein (Including Why I Took Out The Dumpster Fire Ending)

by Jeff O’Brien

Back in 2002 I was something of a scenester. The term “hipster” wasn’t really being thrown around back then but “scenester” certainly was. Looking back, I suppose it was the same thing. It was a term applied to someone who spent the majority of their nights either playing at rock clubs or just hanging out at them with all the other bands and fellow scenesters.

The term was always taken as an insult; no one would ever admit to being a scenester – just like the hipsters of today. I was also an “emo-boy” since I played in a band called Starla, and was skinny with a mop of emo hair on my head. That moniker, I wore like a badge of honor. Still do.

It was a different time. You could still smoke indoors at most public places. My Nokia brick phone was considered fancy. The majority of my porn was still watched via VHS. If you wanted random hook-ups but didn’t want to be social you had either Craigslist or Friendster. Maybe even MySpace if my memory of the time serves me right.

Certain derogatory terms now almost universally frowned upon and deemed as hate-speech were thrown around freely in most circles. Now, before you go getting the wrong idea, I’m not including that last bit with even the slightest hint of nostalgia. I’m embarrassed and ashamed that some words ever even came out of my mouth. I’m just painting a picture of the setting, and for good reason. Unfortunately, some of the ignorant, privileged male mentality hadn’t been fully shed and outgrown by the time BigBoobenstein came into print.

Anyhow, the point of this exposition is to bring you to the place where BigBoobenstein was unknowingly born. Well, maybe not born. In 2002 I’d at least been impregnated with the seed, and it would take eleven years for the monster to come to term.

I was friendly with a group of metal musicians who formed a comedy-gimmick band called Foam n’ Mesh. They dressed as redneck truckers and sang filthy songs. One in particular was a song called “Big Boobens Time” (sp). I misheard the title of the song as “BigBoobenstein” and felt like quite a fool when I told the band – in front of a large crowd of people – that I thought the song title was the greatest song title ever.

This sounds like a minor faux pas, but in such a shallow crowd where everyone is young and superficial and trying to be cooler than the next person, you get your balls busted something fierce when you misspeak like that. It feels almost like wearing a Misfits shirt you got at Hot Topic and being asked by a real punk to name three Misfits song and you can’t do it. I mean, I know every Misfits song, so I don’t know what that’s like. I’m just a shitty writer trying to get a point across, okay? I know how outdated that analogy was. Anyways, the point is that the ball busting in this case lasted many months.

Roughly eleven years after all that, a good friend from back then named John Davidian – whom the book is dedicated to – messaged me one day and said something to the extent of: “Hey, dipshit. Remember that time you said BigBoobenstein instead of Big Boobens Time in front of all those people? That shit was hilarious. You should use that as a book title.” In 99.999 out of 100 cases in which people suggest things like that to me, I ignore them. About two months later I was uploading the book file of BigBoobenstein to Createspace and anxiously awaiting my proof copy.

Strangely enough, in the time between me sending that file and the book making it to print, I found myself sitting before a psychic with my now ex-wife – at her behest. I had zero interest in such an affair, nor would I ever pay to experience it. But there I was.

The psychic told me that my next book would be “the one”. She didn’t specify what she meant by “the one”. She didn’t say it would bring me great fame and riches. She didn’t say it would sell 100,000 copies either. So I guess for once a psychic was spot on with their predictions. But she was also accurate about my next book being “the one”. I’ve written over twenty books, and BigBoobenstein is the only one to crack a hundred ratings on Goodreads. So I guess it’s the one.

It was also a book that spawned two sequels and what I had hoped would be a fourth, which instead turned into four short stories that are now all compiled along with all three books in BigBoobenstein: The Complete Saga, also know as BigBoobenstein: OmniBUST Edition. It’s also the only book of mine to spawn a puppet. But more on all that in a bit.

So…what is BigBoobenstein? Well, for those of you who haven’t read it – and I know there are many of you – BigBoobenstein is the tale of Adelaide De Carlo. Adelaide was 19. She was one of those kids who graduated high school and did not have college in her future. In fact, it didn’t seem there was much future in her future either. She had friends, but that was about all she had going for her. She was broke. Lived at home. Had an abusive, scumbag boyfriend. Hated the way she looked. Hated herself. Had zero self-esteem and overcompensated. Smoked and drank fiendishly.

So, in answer to the question “What is BigBoobenstein?”, the answer is that it is my most truly autobiographical book to date. To elaborate on that any further would be purely solipsistic. There’s a bunch more meta symbolism in the book too that I think is super fascinating, but I guess if David Lynch doesn’t explain that shit then why should I? I’m supposed to be writing this as a means of convincing you to buy the damn thing and read it. Not to summarize it. Maybe if I shut the fuck up there will be hundreds of YouTubers making 5-hour-long videos about the meaning behind BigBoobenstein twenty-five years from now. Why am I even flapping my big fat gums?

Anyhow, without getting too specific and telling you the whole story, BigBoobenstein is a tale of beauty. Yeah, I just called my own work beautiful. FIGHT ME! It’s a tale of hitting rock bottom, fucking yourself up to the point that your very vessel is broken beyond repair, giving up entirely, and somehow rising up when you shouldn’t ever have been able to do so.

But it’s not that simple, you see. And anyone who has lived this tale knows it. Rock bottom is a scary, desolate, and dangerous place. And while it is possible—though very unlikely—to rise back up from it, should you succeed in doing so, you aren’t the same person on the trip back up that you were before the crash. Without explaining my art and demanding that you appreciate and comprehend the sheer and utter brilliance that it is, what I mean to say here is that BigBoobenstein is an inspirational tale.

And now, the sequels…that no one really liked. I know…they are not deep and poetic and meaningful like their predecessor. Thing is, I was 100 percent committed to writing them that way. And why the fuck would I write them any other way?

Have you ever hit rock bottom and successfully turned your life around and succeeded in rebuilding yourself far beyond your own or anyone else’s expectations? And if so, did you then make the conscious decision to fuck your life up again and do it all over just for the sake of adventure and experience? Of course you didn’t, ya’ big dingus. You appreciated the beauty of the world and the people around you. You savored and cherished those things. You enjoyed your new freedom of being able to be lighthearted and fun and overly sexy. Just like the sequels.

 

And sure, there is some tragedy in both Groom of BigBoobenstein and Daughters of BigBoobenstein. Such is life. But after rising back up from unfathomable depths you take those tragedies and you take those close to you and hold them closer and you go forth understanding the importance of love better than you did before. For fuck’s sake I wrote the most beautiful saga to ever feature a talking, shit-drooling, anthropomorphic hernia and porn-obsessed bridge trolls and horny Martians and undead strippers and all you people care about is… wait…I don’t know what it is you people care about.

As I write this I realize I’ve let my ego completely take over. What lies have I been living all these years? I’m so lost in my own asshole that I can’t see the world around me. When Silent Motorist Media asked me to write this I thought I was some kind of interesting wordsmith as deep and dark as the chasms of Moria. I now realize I am merely another mediocre white man with a computer who can’t even come up with a decent Tolkien reference on the fly. Fuck. Hold on, I’ll be right back.

Hi. I’m back. I just had my wife do that thing with the paddle board and the hot sauce and I’m feeling much better. Now I will discuss the dumpster fire of an ending the original printing of BigBoobenstein had, and why I took it out.

In 2013, when I started writing the book, I was far from the same person I am now. In short, I was the kind of person who thought that ending a book with a man getting raped by a group of trans women is funny and/or shocking. At that point in my life I hadn’t actually met or spoken to a trans person, and had given very little thought to the idea of rape culture beyond simply believing that rape is wrong and hating it very much. I was plain ignorant. But in the following years, with all the brilliant and amazing writers and artists and poets of all cultures and walks of life I’ve come to meet, that ending I once thought was so funny and clever began to seem less and less so, to the point where I took all the BigBoobenstein books out of print until I could figure out what to do. I had to decide how I was going to be able to promote work that I’d poured my heart and soul into only to realize it was tragically/thoughtlessly flawed.

Do I just keep them out of print and pretend they never existed? Disavow them forever? Rewrite them? Add a disclaimer at the beginning of the book? Add a disclaimer at the end of the book? Well, obviously you know the answer already since it’s in the title of this post. I took the damn thing out and put a little note to the reader in its place.

The very reasons I was advised against doing this were the very reasons I finally did it.

No real artist changes their work to please other people.”

No real artist is true to themselves if they worry about offending so and so.”

Political correctness is killing comedy!”

Yeah, I heard all that shit. And the kind of people who say those things are the kind of people that brought Adelaide De Carlo to the point of jumping off a bridge (Not really a spoiler – just sayin’). Adelaide wasn’t allowed to grow because of people who feared her growth. They wanted her simple and basic, kept on a low enough level that they could appreciate her and hold power over her in their limited capacity to do so.

The art of comedy is suffering the same fate from the same “PC CULTURE IS KILLING COMEDY” morons. Actually, no. I take that back. Comedy is doing just fine and evolving and growing as it should. Just because some basic dudes created a fake war around it doesn’t mean I have to buy into that shit.

If altering my work turns those people off and away from it, then holy shit! What was I waiting for!?

BigBoobenstein is about finding utopia in a world full of alt-right fascist scum and toxic masculinity. It’s a book about fighting all the things I hate. BigBoobenstein is my utopia. Just because I fucked it up the first time doesn’t mean I can’t rebuild it, alter it, and make it better and more welcoming with fresh, new life. After all, that was literally the whole fucking point of the book to begin with.

Impossible James by Danger Slater – Book Review

Impossible James

By Danger Slater

Fungasm Press, 2019

Reviewed by Gordon B. White

Impossible James, Danger Slater’s latest novel, is a book about the tensions of finding meaning in an absurd world, about tensions that rupture into paradoxes. It’s about growing larger, but also becoming smaller. It’s about fighting a system, but surrendering to it. It’s about creating a legacy and destroying history in the process. It’s also funny, gross, bizarre, and even a little touching. It’s a trip.

What is Impossible James about? The plot is simplicity itself: James Watson (soon to be James Watson, “Sr.”) is diagnosed with a malignant “black spot” in his brain that will kill him … in fifty years or so. Driven to despair, he loses his job at the multinational conglomerate Motherlove, burns his belongings, and gets a screwdriver through the brain which both pins the black spot in place and sparks his creativity such that he can clone himself through a very disgusting process and, eventually, cure death.

As James Sr. grows less and less human, his first clone, James Watson Jr., narrates the story from the end of the world, alternating between his father’s history and the imminent collapse of the universe beneath a plague known as the Gray Tide. Got it? Good.

While the above description should make it clear this is a fine and pulpy story, Slater has a way of writing that belies the danger of his underlying ideas. The plot careens forward and the writing is almost always conversational and, sometimes, willing to derail its own narrative and draw attention to the mechanics of the novelistic structure. The cumulative effect is a story told by a friend, holding on to your arm and shaking you at the good parts. To focus on just the presentation, though, hides the real heart of Impossible James.

Impossible James bears the subtitle “A book about death,” and this is no joke. At every moment, the specter of futility and the void hangs over the proceedings. It has thematic overlays of capitalism, climate catastrophe, existential dread and more. None of them fit completely, but they do so in a way that evokes the unease that all of them do. It’s about setting up Impossible Goals and Impossible Defenses, but being unable to escape the Impossible End. It’s about giving oneself to the world, but also the sheer egotism that doing so takes.

It’s a very strange book about self-centered sacrifice and catastrophes, and the human moments in the face of both, which are by turns poignant and useless. It’s a book about frustration and how as one’s goals explode, one becomes smaller and smaller. It’s about the selfishness of creating a life filled with doubt, but also the catastrophe of abandoning that doubt — and how that doubt which may be the only thing keeping us in check, or at least placated.

Because it’s that sense of doubt — that question of “What’s it all for?” — that might be keeping us from turning into unrestrained sociopaths. In fact, by abandoning that doubt, James Sr. becomes both a society and a pathology in himself. What’s that mean? Well, you’ll have to read it to see.

But all of this is the paradox of Impossible James: a way to balance these warring impulses of the insignificant and the psychotically grand; the crippling doubt against the destructive untethering. And in the end … well, James Watson Jr. has to make a decision. It’s a decision we all have to make, although it isn’t easy to make and even harder to tell if the decision is the one that’s “right.”

With Impossible James, Danger Slater continues slipping his readers existential poison pills beneath a shiny, gleefully gruesome candy coating. By turns humorous, horrifying, and even heartbreaking, Impossible James struggles to make sense of a modern world collapsing under its own bloat and the human but absurd drive to create — be it meaning, purpose, art — in the face of that catastrophe. Is it impossible? No, but it’s Impossible James.

Sorry ‘Bout That: Humor in the Throes of the Vietnam War

By The Reverend

When I was growing up Vietnam vets were still feeling the sting of the jungle. The government had fucked its bright-eyed boys by sending them out to die in the name of some faceless authority figure’s agenda.

To add insult to injury, they’d dumped foul chemicals on their own troops so that those who survived life in the shit came home to discover that public shunning was the least of their problems; they’d also have to cope with ashen skin, liver disorders and chloracne.

As a teenager, my mother would often joke that it was a minor miracle I didn’t come out with a conehead and webbed feet. My brothers and I would laugh, but it was a laugh with a definite edge to it. We knew Pops didn’t like to talk about ‘Nam nor did he ever volunteer any information about the rock hard lumps that would expand and contract on his calves, a deformity that could be traced back to Agent Orange.

One day when I was about 12-years old and at the peak of my morbid curiosity, I asked my father in a breathless whisper, “Did you ever shoot anybody?” His answer took the form of an affirmative grunt. He didn’t look at me or expound any further and I didn’t press the issue. It was obvious to me, even in adolescence, that war was something painful, awful and serious.

What I didn’t take into account was that veterans like my Pops didn’t like to talk about ‘Nam because they didn’t want to remember the bad stuff. As many people who have been through a traumatic experience can attest, it’s not always therapeutic to wallow in the grim details of that trauma. For some of us, it is far more cathartic to focus on the fun that was had in the margins of that misery.

This notion first occurred to me when I saw Stanley Kubrick’s landmark war comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The film was based on a very dramatic work of war-based literature (Red Alert by Peter George) and the adaptation was initially intended to be an epic drama that would be at least somewhat faithful to its source material.

However, as pre-production played out, Kubrick alighted on a simple fact which would change the narrative trajectory of the story and yield one of the finest Hollywood satires of all time. What Kubrick realized was just how absurd war really is. Lo, the manic dark humor of Kubrick’s cinematic send-up of nuclear holocaust was born.

The film resulted in Peter Sellers’ very best comedic characters, Group Captain Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley and Dr. Strangelove, respectively. While marveling at the risque allusions to Nazi salutes and pubic hair, I suddenly understood the value in making light of devastation.

Later in life, after my father had moved to the wilderness and retired from his job, I went through the large oak desk that he’d kept in his home office throughout my childhood. I remembered it as a bit of a command post for Pops, a place where he could go to fill out his daily invoices, balance his checkbook and relax with a good novel.

Above the desk was a large glass cabinet which housed a king’s ransom of mass market paperbacks, virtually all of them concerning different aspects of the military experience. Whether it was a guide to wartime aviation, a ground armament assembly manual or simply a cheap work of fiction about P.O.W.s, it was all neatly organized as if it were one historical library.

Obviously, the old man hadn’t forgotten about ‘Nam nor did it seem like he really wanted to. But on that night in his new Upstate cabin, as we emptied out the desk and prepared to weed out old or unwanted items, I came across an envelope full of photographs. They represented the only actual record of my father’s time in the service aside from his official government documentation and medals.

When my father saw me holding the photos, I thought he’d snatch them out of my hands and return them to the drawer. Instead, a smile cut across his face and his eyes brightened. Inside the envelope I didn’t find any pictures of mushroom clouds or mangled bodies. I didn’t find any grim keepsakes whatsoever.

Instead, the photos I leafed through were photos of young men in uniform goofing off. With warm beers in hand, these squinty-eyed baby soldiers, not one of them more than 19-years old, hammed it up for the camera, throwing one another in headlocks, pouring their drinks on each other’s heads and flexing like beach-bound fools for the ladies who might have been seeing these photos back home.

One picture in particular caught my eye—Pops as a scrawny 17-year old kid with a Beatles haircut…except it was hard to make out his black bob beneath the brassiere he was wearing on his head. In the next photo, the boys were Conga dancing and Pops was wearing the bra on his emaciated chest.

After looking at these pics, I was at a loss for words. Fortunately, my father seized the opportunity and quickly interjected, “You want something I bought when I was there?”

I nodded.

He reached into the cabinet that housed his personal historical library of Vietnam and fished out a small paperback book. The book was Sorry ‘Bout That.

The book’s by-line is credited to Ken Melvin, some sort of pseudonym that represents the several servicemen who collaborated on this collection of cartoons, limericks and other GI-related “diversions.”

As the introduction states, “This book is no War and Peace. You might call it a piece of war—its lighter side. It isn’t meant to motivate, to win minds, cause defections, or sell a way of life—but it does point to that part of the American way of life which enables us to search in the darkness and come up with the light that is laughter.”

Sorry ‘Bout That breezily explores the bars, boondocks, cyclo girls and “dinky dau” of ‘Nam in a bite sized spread of easily digestible and often gut-busting vignettes. The “Numbah ones” are lampooned just as brutally as “Cheap Charlie.”

In much the same way that ‘Dr. Strangelove’ was able to find a sharp gallows humor in nuclear holocaust, Sorry ‘Bout That finds levity in rations, jitters, landmines and lousy juke joint grifters. It’s a fun read for vets and civilians alike, one that reminds us that the funny bone is the hardest one to lose in battle and, indeed, the most important bone in the human body.

Included in the book is a one-act play about a lonely soldier’s encounter with a woman of the night, one whose message is evident straight away. As mascot Asia Bird puts it, “It’s not the Saigon Tea you have to worry about. It’s the Saigon Tease.”

My copy came with a 1000000 Hell Bank note in it because Pops was always the frugal type. That cyclo girl would have to fleece another john because daddy was heading home with something in his wallet.

Also included is the “Sorry ‘Bout That” board game which starts at Tan Sun Nhut Air Terminal and may end with a return to your country of origin…if you play your cards right. If not then the instructions are quite clear. You land on the last spot and it’s back to the terminal with you. Have two ba me mas and call me in the morning!

As for that unfortunate Agent Orange situation, “Sorry ’bout that.”