Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Hour of the Innocents by Robert Paston (Forge Books 2014)

The Army gave him a last fuck-you haircut on the way out. It made him look out of place even in the American Legion.

The vets who returned that year were different. I witnessed the change from the bandstand, week after week, from midnight on Saturday until three on Sunday morning. Their predecessors had come home from Nam, drained their GI savings to buy a Chevy Super Sport or a Plymouth Barracuda, and plunged into doomed marriages with high school sweethearts. Those former soldiers and Marines kept their hair as short as their tempers, got union cards through family connections, and shrugged off their years in uniform. When they came out to get drunk, the music was just background noise.

The Tet Offensive divided the past from the future. The vets who came home after that were as apt to buy a Harley as an Olds 442. They grew their hair—not hippie long, but defiant. Drugs arrived. And the new returnees asked us to play different songs. Instead of “Louie Louie,” they wanted numbers from the Doors or the Stones or Cream. The fights that spilled outside onto the sidewalk continued, but these weren’t the old collisions of tomcat pride. These fights were sullen. As if the vets were following orders they hated.

Matty Tomczik looked like a barroom brawler when he walked in.

He was defensive-lineman big, and that last military scalping had cut so close to his skull, you couldn’t be sure of the color of his hair. With a wide Polish face and a fist-stopper nose, he came across as one more dumb-ass coalcracker unsure of what to do with his limbs in public. Later, I learned that what 1 read as oafishness was a shyness so deep, it crippled him around women.

Matty was surrounded by women that night. Angela, the wife of our bass player and front man, led Matty in with a pack of her giggling friends, beauticians and candv-stripe nurses who recently had discovered marijuana. Angela’s long blond hair shone. A year before, when 1 first joined the band, she had worn a beehive and toreador pants. Now she had a San Francisco look, copied from magazines and complete with purple-lensed glasses she didn’t need.

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