Ashby, Joe

Postcards Pending

posted Mar 8, 2021, 3:29 PM by Bruce Rowe

As a boy, I enjoyed receiving occasional postcards from relatives, postcards from places quite foreign to me then. Later, when I joined the Navy, I would often use postcards to keep in touch with friends and family as it was inexpensive and easy to do. As I continued my travels later in life, I continued this practice, because I noticed often in some places, postcards were the most attractive gifts one could find. Not only for others, but as mementos of places I had been. Why not send them to ourselves?

In the military, in business, or later working for FEMA in disaster after disaster, I found myself in many small towns, cities, and states that I had never or rarely visited before, using postcards to share the experience. Thus began the Bozo cards.Bozo, a large, black and white cat on her back.

Bozo was my cat. A very lazy and sometimes ornery black and white cat. She lounged around the house, occasionally making life difficult for mice, but mostly sleeping. Returning from a trip, she would hop on the bed and straddle my chest with her nose next to mine. I took it as her telling me she missed me, but probably she was informing me that she got along without me very well.

So what does this have to do with postcards? Thinking again about using postcards for souvenirs, I decided to record my various travel on postcards mailed to Bozo. What the heck, the postman didn’t care who they went to as long as the address was right. This way I could send a picture along with a postmark and stamp and include the date and a short message as to where I was, what I was doing, and what the experience meant to me. Soon after returning home, the postcard would arrive and I would read it to Bozo. She would never seem too terribly excited, but it would bring back to my memory a trip experience that I enjoyed sharing.

Thus began many decades ago a history of my travels around the world. Travels that went beyond Bozo to Scheherazade (Shazzy), another cat, and now to BoB (an acronym for bucket of bolts), a full-sized suit of armor setting in my entryway to ward off ill doers. And to Humility, a 3-dimensional mural of a mature woman holding a parasol in her flower garden, hanging in my hallway. As the new recipients of my postcards, the practice of buying and mailing them has not changed, but my messages are more appropriate to such an esteemed pair.

Suit of medieval armor with a large red flower at its waist.

My cards also go to a few friends and family members. My eldest daughter retains the cards as treasure in a Cinderella glass box on top of her bookcase. Another daughter posted them on her refrigerator until she ran out of room. The pictures on the cards are always appropriate and the messages are sincere, although a bit brief at times. I avoid the very pricey wooden, three-dimensional or other-worldly postcards, but stick to those that best illustrate where I am and what I am seeing.

The cards now number in the hundred, as I made it my custom to search out sources of cards, stamps, and post offices early in each trip I made. For a while, I went crazy and attempted to send cards even on brief stops for potty breaks. Now I am more choosy as to the cards I send.

The first task in a foreign country was to learn where I could buy stamps; the post office, gift shops, or the local tobacconist. Then I had to deal with the amount of postage needed to get cards to the US. Sometimes this meant more than one or two stamps on each card, limiting the amount of personal message I could leave for BoB and Humility. I’ve had to put as many as five or six on some cards! Having traveled to more than 120 countries, that has been sometimes a challenge, but I have always been up to it.

Times have changed. With smart phones, everyone is a photographer, and with the internet, people no longer share the need to send postcards. In fact, it sometimes becomes almost impossible to buy cards or stamps, or to find places where they can be mailed. Even major hotels like Hilton and Marriott will often not agree to add your stamped card to their own mail, and don’t have a convenient place from which you can do so.

Colombia still markets postcards in their tourist shops and malls, but they don’t sell stamps other than at a tobacconist. Even having the card with the correct postage, I spent an entire afternoon in Cartagena trying to mail postcards. With limited Spanish, I inquired about correos, carte postal, officina postal, officina correos, etc. I was directed down the street and always with the words “472.” Asking policemen, firemen, and people on the street who looked as though they could help, the answer was always 472. We suspected it was an address, but this led us nowhere.

Finally, at one of the largest tourist shops in Cartagena, we spotted a small brightly painted blue box on the wall with a slot in the lid labeled 472. Was this the only remnant of a post office in Colombia? We still don’t know. The life of us postcarders is getting more difficult. It seems we are a dying breed and the world is changing so fast that we will soon be non-existent.

Consider Egypt. Recent travels took us to Egypt and then to Jordan. Following my usual custom, I inquired about postage stamps and was directed to a tobacconist in Giza City. Sure enough, I found stamps and learned which combinations were necessary to assure delivery in the US. Then, finding postcards was not difficult as most gift shops carried them. Not only in Cairo, Alexandria, and Giza, but also in Edfu, Kom Ombo, and Abu Simbel.

Globe shaped, brass mail box in Egypt.
I dutifully completed and stamped my cards at each of these travel locations and posted them, usually at a post office, in an official postbox, or in a hotel. Our own hotel in Giza had an elaborate brass mailbox in the lobby shaped like a globe of the world. How could that fail me?

Guess what? Every single card I mailed from Jordan arrived, and even all the cards I mailed from Australia, Tasmania & New Zealand in a much later trip. Egypt? Nothing! Not one card from any of the locations.

I have mentioned this situation to postal officials here, who seem to blow it off as insignificant. Insignificant? What if other than a postcard it was a letter of vital, earth-shaking importance? Would that have fared any better than any one of the postcards I mailed? What is going on in this world of ours? Does Egypt still have a postal system?

Special Liberty

posted Mar 8, 2021, 3:08 PM by Bruce Rowe

It was a beautiful fall morning in San Diego and I had liberty from my Navy duties on North Island. My kiddy cruise nearly over, as I will soon reach 21, I needed a day to explore San Diego. Especially the zoo, something I had always wanted to do.

I took the “nickel-snatcher” ferry, connecting North Island to San Diego, and moseyed up Broadway toward the YMCA with not a care in the world. That is, until two uniformed shore patrol swabbies came up and asked if I was in the military. Being in civilian clothes and wanting nothing more than being “non-military,” I said no. What happened from then on changed not only my day, but the rest of my life.

“Then,” they inquired, “let us see your draft card.”

You see, this was the time when all young men were subject to the draft. Now I was stuck, one lie couldn’t be absolved by another. I was on liberty alright, but I didn’t have a liberty card to prove it, and as I was in the Navy, I didn’t have or need a draft card. In no short order I was arrested and placed in a “convenience” brig there on the shoreline of San Diego Bay. It was a small enclosure, only about six-foot square, and the only thing I could see through the rusty short steel bars on the door was North Island Naval Air Station where my morning’s events had begun.

I hadn’t been searched yet, but I panicked when I recalled the presence in my wallet of a bogus meal-pass card. They were easy to come by, but the threat of a court martial or at least a Captains Mast if you got caught with one, came to mind. Quickly, I took it out, swallowed, and introduced it to my digestive system for fear of committing my second serious crime.

Hours passed as I languished there in my prison, the heat of the passing day increasing the level of my discomfort. Besides, I’d skipped morning chow to get to the zoo early, and the only thing I’d eaten since then was the fake meal-pass.

Finally, shore patrolmen showed up and confirmed that I was indeed in the Navy, had authorized absence from my duty station on North Island, and was free to return to that duty station on the next nickel-snatcher. It was evening, and I had even missed dinner at the chow hall back on North Island. On duty the next morning, my Navy chief smirked and shook his head but made no great deal of my yesterday’s ordeal. But I will never forget the loss of that day, from great expectations of wonderful sights and pleasures to exceeding discomfort and dismal disappointment.

Eventually, long after I was discharged from the Navy, I had the opportunity to see and enjoy the San Diego Zoo. So what did I learn from that experience long before? What benefit did it yield to my life? Always tell the truth. And if you can’t tell the truth, at least tell a plausible lie.

Get Off Your Ass

posted Mar 8, 2021, 2:59 PM by Bruce Rowe

“Get off your ass, you lazy son of a bitch,” she yelled.

I knew she meant it as she had the hundreds of times before, but this time I knew she was yelling it to encourage me to take another step in my recovery. Sally was different; she was special, unlike Nancy, my first wife who tossed my ass out many years ago.

While we were a “beautiful couple” by all who knew us at Long Beach State, Nancy had to suffer through my reluctant facing of reality with the draft, my years of living a false reality among the others with shattered dreams in the slime, oppressive heat, and glitzy dressed harlots that clamored for attention near the base in Vietnam. Nancy suffered through her own reality in my absence but steeled up to face me down when I returned and used her as my whipping boy for all the things that went wrong in my life following the war.

School had changed, and while I attempted to pick up where I left off in getting a business education, I found my interests had waned, and my ability to respond to the tasks of classrooms and tests was not the same. Nancy paid the price. The GI Bill was an attractive way to supplement our household income, but “you don’t get the pay if you don’t make the grade.”

Fortunately there were no little Robinettes to worry about. We had held off in having kids at first, thinking it to our advantage until I had completed my education and gotten on in the world of work. Then, after Nam, we tried in the few times our bodies agreed with our minds, or at least our lusts, but failed. Both of us blamed it on the God Damned War, but I knew there was something more personal.

Nancy put up with it—and me—for another three years. Three years of my bitching and complaining about her, my life, my inability to bring about change that I sought, what the war had done to me, and even the dog! The poor harmless mutt, seeking only to be loved, ended up getting the boot.

I drained off my parents in Nancy’s absence. They were willing to do it out of a feeling of compassion for what they perceived as results of an unjust war, an imperfect marriage, and love for their youngest son. They held off comparing the successes of my older brother Edward, who seemed able to put all the marbles in the right place, knowing my fragile temperament at once again hearing how Edward had made another score. Now, their help had no green behind it. I had gotten from them all the financial help they would offer and it was up to me as an adult to find my own way in life. I think they call it tough love.

The streets have their place, but they are not the solution to a troubled soul. I learned to cope, use offered homeless resources when I could, withstand the absence of love, warmth, and an occasional Heath bar. And seek a shred of self-respect when I compared my existence to that of the other souls I shared this patch of life with.

Then I met Sally. She was pretty. She was alive. She seemed to have purpose, and she seemed to see something in me that even I could not detect. For her, I tried. She brought out a smile my face had not used in years. I followed up on a job she suggested at the lumber yard, and guess what? They hired me as though they also saw something in me. It wasn’t the job I would have wanted, but it was a job and it paid me enough to say farewell to the streets. It helped to seal the deal with Sally, and she offered to share her small apartment with me. We were a couple!

You notice I said “were a couple” because that’s what people perceived about us for a long time. Then I became the real me, no longer seeing Sally as that someone special, no longer treating that job at the lumber yard as being anything more than drudgery. I can’t even remember how long it took, but the ever looming shadow was becoming suffocating.

My downward spiral wasn’t taken lightly by Sally. She really cared for me and tried her best to set aside the outbursts of temper, but it was the raging nightmares that scared the hell out of her. She was strong to a point, but didn’t know how to kill—or at least understand—these dragons I had brought home from the war. My darkness was growing to the extent that I considered checking out of it all. Was there anything more to life?

And then I was introduced to VWG.

The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego interested me at first because of a friend who shared some of my same experiences in Nam. I don’t know why I let him talk me into going one Saturday to their monthly meeting in Oceanside, but I’m glad I did. It wasn’t a Vietnam veteran that captured my attention, not even a veteran, but the widow of veteran whose PTSD drove him out of this world through suicide.

Something unknown to me brought her here, now, today, into my fragile mental state. Listening to Alexa relate what she had gone through in her marriage translated loud and clear, five by five, into what it must have been like for Nancy and for Sally to live with me. I was a real bastard! Now that I knew it, what was I willing to do about it?

That’s why, when Sally said “Get off your ass, you lazy son of a bitch,” I headed for the desk and my computer. I have already written two small books, and contributed several small articles for veteran oriented printings, but now I am determined to write “something of substance.” Not that I’m a writer of note, but I have learned that being a writer requires me to be a reader as well. And read I do. Constantly.

The bad dreams are still there, but somehow my writing seems to make me more capable of living with them until they subside. It also must be making Sally more capable of living with me, as she is now to be the mother of my first child, and perhaps the first of many.

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