More Junie Moon Rising

Hi friends, Chapter two is really short so I’ve added two chapters today. It is impossible to get involved in a story with just a few pages. I’m still awaiting comments – both good and bad. Cheers, June.

CHAPTER 2

The following day, I arrived in Manhattan to discover that November in New York was equally as cold and damp as Washington. Peering from the cab window, I wondered why New York was called ‘The Big Apple’. It seemed such a meaningless sobriquet.
The cabbie screeched to a halt in front of a tall, red brick building. I handed him the amount registered on the meter and his smile disappeared. Apparently he expected a tip, a custom we had not yet adopted in Australia. Reluctantly, I handed over more money.
With my high heels clicking noisily over the polished floor, I carried my suitcase across the depressing and silent reception area. At the check-in desk, the spinster-type receptionist peered at me above wire-rimmed glasses.
“We’ve kept a room for you on the fifth floor, Miss Collins. And, please remember, no gentlemen callers past reception and the doors are locked at twelve sharp.” Her expression clearly indicated she expected me to test all the rules. This was not the welcome I had become accustomed to. During the flight, the airline hostess had recognized me from earlier newspaper headlines and greeted me warmly.
I shrugged and took the elevator to my narrow, simply furnished room. Dimly lit by a forty-watt bulb, it was as cold as the receptionist downstairs. What on earth had Rita Hayworth been thinking of?
With hours to kill before meeting Robin, I decided to explore that Big Apple.
I hung up my few clothes, tucked my hair inside a beret, then headed for the wintry outdoors. Just as I stepped onto the street, a car backfired, causing me to flinch. That’s an improvement, I thought, resisting the urge to throw myself to the ground, a reaction developed after too many mortar attacks.
Braced against the cold, I wandered wide-eyed along Lexington Avenue, absorbing the throbbing vitality of the city. Stern-faced pedestrians brushed past me; everyone seemed to be in such a hurry. Winter’s drab colors were brightened by a sea of cheery yellow cabs which clogged the road, stopping and starting in spurts. Sleet and light snow drifted and quickly evaporated, sprinkling my face. I found the sensation pleasing, all my senses on alert. Clouds of steam billowed up from grates in the sidewalk, briefly warming my legs. This was such a contrast to the heat and vivid colors of the tropics, yet the very difference was exciting.
Mouthwatering fragrances of ground coffee beans and freshly baked bread wafted out from the many delicatessens. Street vendors in woolly caps and scarves sold hot pretzels from stands along the pavements. Wondering what they tasted like, I tried one but, finding it dry and too salty, I threw it into the gutter.
My cheeks were turning stiff from the cold and my belly rumbled. A window full of olives and hanging pastrami lured me into its black-and-white tiled interior. This new experience, new place, demanded a new taste thrill. I settled for a Reuben sandwich and ate with relish as a sliver of sauerkraut escaped onto my chin.
By 7:00 p.m., I was apprehensively waiting in the foyer for Robin of the sexy phone voice. When a conservatively dressed, middle-aged man with thinning hair approached, my expectations plummeted.
“Junie Moon. What a pleasure.” He kissed me on each cheek, his warm greeting slightly dispelling my disappointment. The Marlboro Man he was not but, as the night progressed, he proved to be fascinating company.
“Now, about our working arrangement,” he said, after the waiter removed our dessert dishes “My attorney, Marty Heller, wants us both in his office tomorrow so he can prepare a contract. I’m ready to start working on the story outline immediately.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Well not at my place, that’s for sure. My wife Liz is going to scream blue murder when she gets an eyeful of you.” He had been drinking steadily throughout the meal and now gazed a little too openly at my breasts. “I have a studio down on 42nd Street where I write when I’m in town. I prefer writing at my Jamaican property but, at the moment, I need to stay here. My latest book, ‘The French Connection’, is being made into a movie and they’re shooting it in New York. You’ll find the studio pretty basic but you can stay there while we’re writing.”
“Basic or not, I have a hunch I’ll like it better than the Barbizon. Which reminds me, I’d better get back or I might be locked out.”
Robin’s face fell.

CHAPTER 3

“Ya gotta live it up to write it down.” Robin grinned as he entered the studio and flopped onto the daybed. His long, daily ‘business lunches’ were cutting into our writing time.
“You’ve been telling me that for the last three months,” I grumbled, irritated that he was late again.
“Now, now, Junie Moon. Just a little nap and I’ll be ready to work for another two hours.”
I looked at the clock and frowned. It was already three o’clock. If he slept for an hour and then we worked for two more, by five his wife Liz would be phoning every few minutes as she always did if he was late.
I admired Robin’s courage. In order to write ‘The Green Berets’, he had undergone jump training with The Special Forces at Fort Bragg. He then received special permission to go to Vietnam with them for six months, gathering material for that book.
But I was anxious to get on with my life and he kept returning late and glassy-eyed from lunch. If he worked overtime, both Liz and his girlfriend harassed me with endless phone calls.
Already he was snoring lightly, his mouth slightly agape, his graying hair rumpled against a cushion. What did all these women see in him? His little black book bulged with female names and far too many phoned. Obviously, his writing studio had a dual purpose.
Until he woke up, I couldn’t do much for I wrote under his guidance. Robin plotted the book and wrote the segments about the Senate investigation; I wrote the sections about my involvement leading up to the hearings. Using his old Remington typewriter, he inserted my chapters, editing as he went. He was calling our story ‘faction’, fiction based upon facts.
Wandering disconsolately to the kitchenette, I poured another coffee. Until the book was sold, I was broke so haste was imperative.
My exhilaration over bringing the crooked army sergeants to justice had been short-lived. At first, I had enjoyed all the public attention. When my picture hit the newspaper front pages, I became Queen for a Day – a temporary diversion for the New York social set who briefly embraced my differences. Yet I couldn’t overcome the feeling of being a Martian, not belonging anywhere.
Initially, I was awestruck by the glitter and glamour of New York’s high society but soon the superficiality galled me. Designer labels and ‘the in crowd’ seemed irrelevant. I was lugging the invisible baggage of Vietnam with me and the memories hadn’t dissolved with a snap of my fingers. I had been living one ‘life’ one minute then, after a few short hours on a plane, I was thrust into an entirely different one. The sudden contrast was overwhelming.
While writing about Vietnam all day, it was impossible to forget and move on. As the initial excitement generated by the hearings quieted, depression began creeping up on me—stealthily—like a cheetah stalking a gazelle.
Nothing felt real anymore. In Vietnam, the GIs used to talk longingly about returning to the real world. But eventually that place of war became our reality. I wondered if many of them, upon returning to that so-called ‘real world’, felt as alien as I did. Possibly not as much, considering they returned to their own country. But they must have been greatly distressed by their countrymen’s abuse and lack of compassion. Maybe my re-entry into ‘normal’ society would have been less challenging if I had returned to Australia. Yet given my emotional state, I doubted it and concluded many of us must have lost our sense of belonging to the place we left because those of us who returned were no longer the same people.
Robin’s depressing little brown studio with its strident telephone was no help. It sat above The 13 Coins Chinese restaurant and the nauseating cooking fumes frequently seeped in. At night, I smelled the odor clinging to my pillowcase. While I tossed and turned on the narrow daybed, Robin was ensconced in his luxury, high-rise condo. Liz had decorated it with zebra-skin covered floors, mirrored walls, and countless vases filled with armfuls of white lilies.
In search of sleep, I began medicating on wine and sleeping pills. I could understand why Vietnam vets suffered this way but why me? I had not been in combat.
Life remained unpredictable. Short term, there was the book to finish but what then? I still toyed with the idea of adoption but over the last few years, my zeal had faded, impeded by too many obstacles; little things, such as the war. However, I had made enquiries at a New York adoption agency only to be told that it was impossible for single women to adopt. Liberal changes allowing ‘singles’ and homosexuals to adopt were many years down the road.
I wanted to keep my promise to take one of those Asian street children but, long ago in Australia, I swore I would never marry again. I planned to finish my life very happily as a single woman. Thoughts of children had been shoved strongly off my radar…unil that night in Manila when I saw those little beggars asleep on the sidewalk and my heart broke. The sight of their soiled, crumpled bodies flashed to mind. The eldest no older than maybe eight; newspaper used in place of sheets; and the huge, hairy, red-eyed rat that scurried away from the soles of their feet at my approach.
Putting down my empty coffee cup, I noisily tidied the kitchen, hoping to wake Robin. He didn’t stir but I heard a sound outside the door. Opening it, I found no one there. But, from the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a black, flowing skirt disappearing around the corner. My foot brushed against something. I bent and picked up a small, rag doll riddled with pins.
“Not another one,” I mumbled, slamming the door and throwing the gift from Robin’s girlfriend into the garbage can.
Robin had introduced us the previous week when she broke his rule of no uninvited guests at the studio. She had stared at me from granite-hard eyes as she wrapped her arms possessively around Robin’s waist. Tall and thin, she towered above him and her long, black hair fell across his shoulders.
“Did Robin tell you I’m a witch?” She rasped, “You keep your hands off my man if you know what’s good for you.”
I had laughed aloud, my respect for Robin plummeting. “Well, hop on your broomstick and fly away. I’m busy.”
Robin got rid of her and returned, shoulders hunched, avoiding my eyes.

Being new in the U.S. and after living removed from western civilization for years, I didn’t always understand what was happening around me. When Robin took me to The Friar’s Club, an exclusive men’s hangout for the rich and famous, I was unaware that I was meant to be impressed.
Four or five of us sat drinking while a chatty group at the next table fawned around an older man. He openly stared at me before inviting Robin to bring ‘his friends’ and join his table. Robin eagerly complied, seating me beside the lascivious celebrity. The man’s wit kept his audience in peals of laughter but he did not interest me. My rebuff embarrassed all present. Robin quietly scolded me for being rude to such a famous television personality.
Living in Vietnam, where we had only limited Armed Forces Network Television, I had never heard of him so, to me, he was just an unattractive, old man. Such experiences re-enforced my feeling of being a Martian. ‘Their’ values were not mine.
Years later, Charlie Daniels recorded a song called ‘Still in Saigon.’ The lyrics perfectly described me in those early New York days. How could I forget Vietnam when it was still so fresh in my mind and I wrote about it all day?
My moods swung between boisterous laughter and thinly-controlled anger. On a good day, I hid my feelings; on a bad day, I had none. No anger, no fear, no sadness, no joy, no lust. I felt like ‘Dead (wo)Man Walking’. I was physically, mentally and sexually defunct. During one of those days, I stepped out into Manhattan’s rush-hour traffic against the lights. Amid squealing brakes and screamed abuse, I ambled zombie-like to the other side, numbly daring death. I felt so dead that there was no motivation to do anything, even take my own life…or save it.
Then a few weeks later, I picked up the newspaper and read a small article about Jurate Kazickas, a journalist with AP. While covering the war in Vietnam, she became famous among the Marines, many of whom claimed she was the greatest journalist over there. Affectionately, they had nicknamed her Big Sam. While accompanying a company of marines in the field, she was wounded at Khe Sanh.
The article said she had attempted suicide in a gas oven. I was shocked. She had left Vietnam ahead of me and I had recently bumped into her in New York. She was riding a bicycle through Manhattan, curly hair and cotton skirt flying in the wind. When I hailed her, she rode over and we went for coffee. There was no indication anything was wrong. She was still reporting for AP but, somehow, she seemed as out of place as I felt.
Deeply affected by her attempted suicide, I did some research and discovered that more Army nurses suffered depression after Vietnam than after any previous war. I can’t say enough about my admiration for those dedicated women. The realization that one is participating in a futile war where young men are dying needlessly is devastating. Nurses had to deal daily with the death and dying which I did not. But my knowledge of the dying and my involvement with the corruption had eroded my spirit. After reading about the nurses, I oddly felt better, not from any lack of compassion, but by knowing I wasn’t alone.

By day, Robin and I were busily writing; by night, we were being lavishly entertained. Liz was always there, clinging possessively to Robin. Clearly, she didn’t like me. Young, big-busted blondes are seldom popular with other women, especially if they are locked in a small space with the woman’s husband all day.
We mingled with interesting people. We lunched with Harold Robbins, the hottest author of the day. We had coffee with Barbara Walters. She was charming and wanted to interview me on morning television but her producer said ‘no’, he hadn’t believed my story. At the New York Explorer’s Club, I was enchanted by the seafaring adventures of Thor Herdayl of the Kon Tiki expedition. Since age ten, when I fell in love with Gulliver, I was always drawn to adventurers.
Many weekends, I explored New York alone. I climbed the steps inside the Statue of Liberty—all the way up to the torch—in the days before terrorism banned that activity. I took the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building where I swayed and felt dizzy. I traveled by ferry to Staten Island. I wandered through Central Park and sipped tea at The Plaza’s Palm Court. Just another gawking tourist.
I managed to control my drinking in public until one night when Robin, Liz, and I were invited to join a few of his friends for dinner at an exclusive new restaurant.
Seven of us entered the elegant room on ankle-deep carpet. Rich tapestries hung on brick walls beneath soaring ceilings; timber shone warmly and crystal sparkled. The strains from a violin quartet added ambiance to the muted atmosphere. Yet it failed to lift my spirits after a day of writing about things which still stirred my emotions.
A tuxedo-clad waiter placed a napkin on my lap then poured Cristal champagne into a hollow-stemmed goblet. I absently thanked him, lost in morbid thoughts. My dinner companions made polite conversation but I did not participate. What did I care about the latest Broadway show or their new physical fitness trainers?
Staring morosely at the bouncing bubbles in my glass, I quickly squelched their effervescent dance with a big gulp. The efficient waiter repeatedly filled my goblet. The surrounding opulence only increased my despair as a series of vignettes sprang unbidden to mind. When the waiter sat a dish of pink prime rib before me, I saw flashes of young soldiers, squatting in torrential rain, hunched beneath oilskin ponchos while eating C-rations from khaki-colored tins. I shoved my plate aside, untouched. I did not belong here with these bejeweled and fur-clad ladies. Emptying my glass, I slammed it down, breaking the stem. Quick as a whiplash, I leaped onto the center of our table with a wounded scream. Wine goblets and china cups toppled over. Glaring angrily around the room, I pointed an accusing finger at the diners, never considering some could have sons in Vietnam.
“What’s wrong with you people!?” I screamed. “Don’t you have any feelings? Don’t you care that your young men are out there in the mud dying for you while you’re pampering yourselves? You disgust me.”
Robin frenziedly tugged my skirt while waiters rushed towards us. They dragged me down, threw me out into the street and banned me forever. I wasn’t their ‘type’. Robin was gentlemanly enough to escort me back to the studio and I vaguely remember him and Liz leaving.
I wish I didn’t remember staggering to the neighborhood cocktail lounge after they left. The bartender decently tried to stop me from drinking more but I craved oblivion. My earlier explosion hadn’t alleviated my turbulence; it only added a twisted remorse to my seething anger. I made eye contact with a good-looking (I think), dark-haired man. He helped me back to the studio and I dragged him into bed. Popping amyl nitrates, I tried to bring my dead libido back to life, clawing and writhing my way through the next half hour. The ferocity of my attack turned his initial pleasure to anger and he removed his bleeding body with a few harsh words then left, slamming the door.
Stumbling to the shower, I turned it on full force, so hot it scalded me. Falling against the tiled wall, I slid in a cloud of steam to the floor and lay there, pelted by water which coursed around me before gurgling down the drain. Then I cried…and cried.
The next morning when Robin arrived and found the empty pill bottle, he phoned a doctor friend. I opened my eyes, confused, and looked around before recognizing the studio. The previous night’s events flooded back like dirty water. I groaned. I had only made things worse.
“How are you feeling now?” Robin asked after the doctor reprimanded me with a few threats about Bellevue and left. I turned my head to the wall, not answering; not wanting him to look at me.
“Luckily, I came in early,” he said.
“Just leave me alone.”
“Junie Moon, you have a problem, honey. I think you need to get away from New York. How would you feel about going to Jamaica and finishing the book in Port Antonio? It’s peaceful there.”

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5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. BABYBOOMER johanna van zanten
    Mar 17, 2013 @ 23:41:32

    Wow, that is quite a chapter. Obviously the protagonist is mentally unstable. I am sure that it will be explained in the next chapters. The narrative is fast paced and keeps the reader engaged. I am curious.
    Johanna

    Reply

  2. June Collins
    Mar 18, 2013 @ 00:25:17

    Hi Johanna. She was of course, unstable. Just like the thousands of others who returned disillusioned from the futility of the Vietnam War. Many of them never recovered. This is her story of trying to recover and get on with life.

    Reply

  3. citigal
    Mar 26, 2013 @ 03:37:16

    Love the book. Love the story. We were the heroes. You, me,the entertainers and especially the young men and women who risked their lives in a war that should never have been. Love you Junie.

    Reply

  4. best indie rock
    Apr 23, 2013 @ 01:09:46

    Excellent blog post. I certainly love this site.
    Keep it up!

    Reply

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