Scene One – BLACK SWAN – Milwaukee, Wisconsin, June 2018
“I dropped him, Bobby,” Dave says snuffing out his Camel cigarette. “It was him or me. Every day in ‘Nam was like that. Never knowing. I can’t remember a day when I would relax. How could I?” Dave shifts his gaze from me to a distant tree outside the window. “He looked like a local, but he came on like a VC. I had to off him.”
“That’s a hell-of-a story, Davey.” I reach for the coffee pot, refill my cup, and gesture toward him. “More?”
“Thanks.” Dave pushes his white cup across the stained oak kitchen table. His faded USMC tattoo is barely visible on his sun-tanned forearm. Wisps of blonde highlight his gray hair. “Fifty years ago, and I still think of that day.”
“As you should,” my hand shakes as I finger my thinning hair back from my face. I remember Dave’s letters from ‘Nam. I was pushing pencils in college while he was pumping bullets. “Anyone would want to know if he did the right thing,” I say. “Did you ever learn if the guy was Viet Cong or civilian?”
Sweat beads on Dave’s forehead. He stokes another cig. Smoke jets from his nose like a diesel engine. “Never found out. After he dropped, we started taking small arms fire on our right flank. I hit the dirt and shimmied on my belly off the road into a rice paddy. A Huey ‘copter came in, leveled the village, and we were out of there.”
I reach for Dave’s Camels, “May I? I haven’t had a butt in years.”
I take a deep drag on the unfiltered cigarette, feeling the smoke burn my throat. Bits of tobacco stick to my tongue, like the unanswered questions in Dave’s story. “Davey, I know your memories are hard for you. Maybe I can help with another perspective?”
He leans his 190-pound body into the kitchen chair that creaks in response, “Go for it, buddy.”
“Ever hear of a Black Swan event?” I ask.
“Can’t say I have.”
“Black Swans can’t be seen or visualized,” I say. They’re black, therefore as a metaphor, invisible. Every so often a significant unseen event, called a Black Swan, will occur that changes a culture. We know these events will happen but we don’t know what they are, what they will be, or what changes will result. Black Swans can’t be predicted because they’re unknown. 9-11 was a Black Swan. In many ways Vietnam was a Black Swan for you.”
“How so, Bobby?”
I turn to Dave. “You’ll never know if you did the right thing in ‘Nam. One thing’s for certain. You probably wouldn’t be here if he had been Viet Cong and you hadn’t taken the shot. If he were civilian, on the other hand, you’ll never know that, either. Since you can’t change what you did, you live without knowing, accepting like a Black Swan, what can’t be known.”
Scene Two – CLUELESS – Melody Music Studio, Madison, Wisconsin, June 2020
“Hi, my name is Bobby Williams,” I say. “I’m opening today’s recital. Melody Music is committed to music education as well as your enjoyment. Music communicates beyond words. So, here’s a bit of music theory behind my new composition, Clueless.”
I play a D minor eleven on my Roland Juno, DS 88 keyboard. “I’m clueless about some of life’s most vexing questions. In my search for meaning I accept the possibility that some questions may never be answered. Maybe I’m cavalier, when I say, ‘So what? I’ll never know!’ I’m clueless.”
I adjust my music stand. “Music begins in C major. Bass chords are four-note arpeggios and rolled tenth progressions of C – G – octave up E – back to G. The final verse ends in an unresolved D minor, like the stripes on a zebra, with no beginning or end.”
I adjust my microphone, lean in, and sing.
“Reckless, restless, leaves me breathless.
Childhood girlfriends never would play.
Careless, feckless, makes me mindless.
All my lovers get in my way.
Hopeless, sadness, keeps me aimless.
Lone wolf hiding, running away.
Clueless, do less, feeling foolish.
Everybody has a bad day.”
If this post is meaningful, please like or tweet below or leave a comment. Thank you for your interest and possible action you may take.
Richard Wilberg, MS, PLCC, ACC
Creativity Coach for Personal Fulfillment and Career Success
About the Author
I write personal essays, creative non-fiction, flash fiction, and self-development articles from my home in Madison, Wisconsin.