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Pat Calls It Quits and I Go To Nam

I’d been making pictures out of the country almost exclusively for almost four years. I was able to get all the work I wanted guest starring in TV, but features in California, somehow, were verboten. The best offers I could get were for substandard movies that I wouldn’t lend my name to.

The marriage had begun to unravel when we settled in back at Benedict Canyon. Hiro took care of the house and our German Shorthaired Pointer, Cappi, during our many absenses. Pat just couldn’t take charge. Hiro would ask what she wanted him to do and she’d say something like, "I don’t know, I guess just what you’ve been doing."

Hiro came to me one day and asked, "What am I supposed to do?" I told him Mrs. Jason was in charge of the house now, and he recounted his several conversations with her. I told him to take it easy for awhile, I’d let him know if anything special was needed. I waited and waited, but the longer it went on, the more defeated she’d seemed by her inability to take on the responsibility of even doing the marketing.

One night, almost a year later, we were lying in bed watching TV and she said, "You know, we really should break up before we start hating each other. I know I’m beginning to hate myself."

It took me a little while to fully appreciate that statement. The sex was great, the life was good, we had friends to dinner often (but I did the cooking), and she had finally done a sit-down dinner for twelve that would have wiped out the greatest chef of Europe. It took her three days, and afterwards she collapsed for a day, but I was proud of her. I repeated, over and over, that she’d outdone me by fifty miles (and I meant it).

It didn’t help.

A week later, after several quiet discussions, I suggested that she get a lawyer. She said it would be too expensive to have two lawyers. We had a friend, an attorney, who often was at the house. We went to see him, asked him to sit fiduciary. After our pleading that we couldn’t trust anyone else, he accepted. He asked Pat, "What do you want?"

She answered, "Nothing. This man has been cut to pieces by three other women. I have a small income, and there are just one or two items I’d like to have. The rest of the things belong to the house."

My answer was that she could have anything she wanted. That was the sum of it. We went home and had dinner.

The divorce was quiet. Neither of us were happy about it, but we both knew, reluctantly, it was necessary. After four times at bat, I decided marriage was not for me, that there are some people who just are not suited for it, and I must be one of them.

The USO had contacted me about doing a tour of Vietnam to visit the troops. It was early October and one place I didn’t want to be that Christmas was alone at Benedict Canyon, so I signed on for twenty-one days in Nam. I was checked into a hotel in Saigon with a lot of other people doing the USO tours. I was wearing new style fatigues and jungle boots.

The army assigned me a young captain, Glen Robbins, from the engineer corps as escort officer. He couldn’t have been much over twenty-four. We traveled to a different location each day, from the Delta in the extreme south to the DMZ (demilitarized zone), which was only a couple of hundred yards separating the two warring sides. My captain and I would land at a camp in a ten-seater plane that hip-hopped all over the place, picking up and dropping off personnel. About nine-thirty in the morning, I’d check into the Commander’s hooch with my suitcase, take a chopper to an outpost where I’d jaw with the troops for a few hours, get picked up by chopper and do a few more outposts, and be back at the main camp for a shower and change of clothes by four-thirty.

I’d have evening mess with the enlisted men and we’d shoot the breeze for a while. I opined that army food hadn’t changed in twenty-five years.

After dinner, I’d meet my captain and we’d go to the local hospital for about three hours, where he’d wait while I visited the wards, including the burn wards and amputee wards. I made sure not to miss one bed. Coming out of those rooms, the smile on my face that I would use to buck everyone up would turn to racking tears as I hurried around a corner. More than once I gave up my dinner. But I’d cry myself out and the captain and I would then head to the Officer’s Club where I usually managed to get roaring drunk with a bunch of nice kids wearing captains bars or gold leaves on their shirt collars.

My captain would pour me into bed and we were up at five in the morning and off to the next place. Every four days we were flown back to Saigon for a day and to get our laundry done. Combat! was the most popular show on Armed Forces television in Nam and the guys really enjoyed talking with someone they’d just seen on the tube or from a 16mm projector the night before. I’m glad I was able to help lift morale a bit.

My career went apace. I worked as much as I wanted to. There was also plenty of time for fishing and hunting. I settled into the comfortable life of a working bachelor. Actually, I’d never enjoyed myself so much in my life. I looked back on my marriages as learning lessons in disaster and wished I’d been smart enough not to have gotten into any of them. Well, I’d learned, and it wasn’t going to happen again. I was having all the fun with none of the responsibility. Along the way I’d meet an absolutely beautiful and wonderful woman who, after a time, demanded exclusivity from me. If she couldn’t accept me as I was, I politely bowed out.

In the atrium outside the front door, and just inside the wrought iron gates, I’d built a small pond on the edge of which was a carved stone statuette that recirculated the water by way of a pump. The tubing had become stopped up with algae and Hiro had said he’d flush it out if I’d get it to the kitchen sink. I unhooked it and as I stepped down from the tiled pond rim, cradling the two-foot form in my arms, I fell. My hand hit the edge of the brick walk as I cradled the head of the statue.

I sat up and looked at my right thumb. It was bent forward at a ninety-degree angle, about a third of the way up the nail. I could see lots of pieces of bone. With my left hand, I pushed it back up straight and holding my hand above my head to help stem the bleeding, rushed into the bathroom where I ran it under cold water. Then I knotted a handkerchief with my teeth and left hand and tied a tourniquet around my wrist.

I called my doctor’s office and said I thought I might have chopped off part of my thumb but I wasn’t sure. Hiro drove me to the office. I had my hand held high and had put a small towel over it. They rushed me past the waiting patients into an examining room. A minute later the good doctor walked in and as he did (I must have just been going into shock) I whipped the towel off and sang, "Da-daaaaaa."

I didn’t lose the thumb, but it took almost two months to heal. One day, I asked the doctor why the damned thing still hurt so much. His answer: "You have more nerve endings in your thumb than in all the other fingers on that hand combined. If your thumb was in the middle of your arm you’d hardly feel a thing."

I said, "I’ll give you five thou for you to transplant it there right now."

So, now I’ve got a slightly mangled right thumb that serves as a great reminder to me about how imperfect I am — in so many ways.


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