The wrong song on the radio


Dutch tells me the songs on the radio are all about his life.

This is the end of the summer, 1969, and we are so caught up with old patterns, we think we’re going back to school after Labor Day – instead of rotting in this hospital ward.

Dutch is two years older than I am, has been to Vietnam and back, and tells me often about how the jungle rot from weeks walking in swamp ate off three of his toes.

And hasn’t stopped yet.

He expect to lose the foot though the Army doctors tell believe they caught it and time, and predict he might even be able to walk again – some day.

Dutch, being the son of a Detroit auto worker, tells them they’re full of shit, and tells me he always expected to follow in his father’s footsteps to become an auto worker, too.

The war snatched him up instead, though sometimes, he claims the Army saved his life by getting him off the streets before the riots started.

He was in boot camp during the riots of 1967, and says if he hadn’t been, he would have killed somebody and somebody would have killed him – and says he always believed his chances better fighting in the swamps of Vietnam.

Dutch listened to the radio all day.

We all do -- since Captain Bryant our ward nurse won’t let us turn on the TV until after super and then only until nine when he orders us to shut it off along with the lights.

The one except came in July when Capt. Bryant let us stay up to see the first men land on the moon.

He claimed it was a defining moment for humanity. Dutch said so was one of his better farts, humming the song “In the year 2525,” as if to say the future won’t be like anything we expect, and nothing good.

Dutch says progress is killing us, the way cars killed his father with cancer just after he got into the army.

There’s no future in the future, he says.

And I believe him.

Dutch dwells on the past and sings along with Bob Dylan’s “Lay, Lady Lay” because it reminds him of his first girlfriend. He refuses to sing Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds” because that reminds him of his girlfriend, too.

Dutch is convinced he won’t live to leave the hospital if the army doesn’t get him out of here soon, and he cringes to each new song as if one of them will tell him exactly when the end will come.

I try to reassure him, but my head spins with doubts, too, as we’re both caught up in Oldies but Goodies and a past none of us will ever see again, all those sugary bubble gum songs just after the Beatles arrived in America, full of hope and love I still wish was real.

I can’t tell Dutch that I’m still a virgin. So I pretend to know what he is talking about when some songs remind him of his love making with this woman or that.

Unlike Dutch, I’m still on my way to Vietnam, stopping off here in this ward just to get rid of a nasty liver infection before I go off where I can die a thousand deaths the way most of Dutch’s buddies did.

I’m scared I’ll die before I get my first blow job – and can’t imagine what song could possibly convey how desperate that makes me feel.

Maybe that’s why the pretty volunteer girl from the local college lets me cop a feel a few times – knowing anyone of us might soon hear the wrong song on the radio

Like Dutch does today.


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