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Why Steve the mail carrier frightens me

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In 1970, Joni Mitchell wrote it and sang it. And in 1975 it became a hit: Big Yellow Taxi.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

With a pink hotel, a boutique, and a swingin’ hot spot.

Don’t it always seem to go

That you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

In June of 1964 I joined the United States Army. And I suppose I was patriotic enough; in a naïve, romanticized John Wayne, mindless recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance sort of way. I remember my first and only foot patrol. It was in May of ’65, right along the DMZ in South Korea, north of the Imjin. Our sector was sandwiched between Libby and Freedom Bridges. And PFC Hendrix bought it; was exploded to grisly confetti by a remotely detonated anti-tank mine.

Other than what got splattered on trees and the grass and the patrol’s fatigue jackets, there wasn’t enough left of him to fit into a gallon Ziplock — except that Ziplocks hadn’t yet been invented.

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And I put in three 1049’s, for transfer out of South Korea to Vietnam. Captain Ackiss turned every one of my requests down. Before taking command of our company he had been stationed in South Vietnam, certifying the dead bodies in the full metal jackets being transported stateside were who they were supposed to be. Except none of them were supposed to be headed “home” that way.

That’s what Captain Ackiss told me, each time he declined my reassignment request. I suppose I was patriotic enough, in a mindless recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance sort of way.

Over the years, I’ve come to consider Captain Ackiss as the true patriot, a true man with moral courage. He, an officer, confided to a PFC what superimposed Army protocol stated should never have been confided: We had no business being “over there.”

All in all, however, I guess I was patriotic enough, in a mindless recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance sort of way; probably not so different than a lot of those in today’s Army and Marines.

But for seven years now I have been witness to the Bush-Cheney-GOP hypocritical pretending to swaggering macho patriotism, to their scatological regard for our Constitution, to their tortured twisting of the English language in order to make torture of confined human beings by some perverse stretch of the a vile imagination acceptable, and to the planet-despoiling, amassing of wealth and power over the many by a select corporate few, all under the guise of “market freedom” and God’s will.

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And the melodious refrain from Big Yellow Taxi keeps coming back, “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

A lot of folks responded to my betrayal of the interchange between Steve, my mail carrier, and me. They were responses that were far more composed and composed of greater wisdom than what resides in me. I thank each and every one who called me to a kinder plane.

Though I pine for greater gentility in this time of turbulence, I admit that you are better than me. It’s just that the melodious refrain “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” haunts me.

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An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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Old Soldier. You said that sooo well. Sometimes... by davy on Wednesday, Jan 9, 2008 at 8:30:26 AM


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