Notes on “Part 2”

Story, “Interlude,” from The Proles (1969)

        While in the Army and in relatively quiet circumstances in 1969, I embarked on a project to write a relatively crude “meta-spy” novel which I called The Proles. I still have the original typewritten manuscript. I am presenting the entire original Chapter 4 text, a chapter titled “Interlude,” which gives an up-close transcript of my 14 weeks in Basic Combat Training in Fort Jackson, SC in the early part of 1968. There are a couple of other extraneous characters from earlier chapters.

        First, let me sketch the concept of the novel. I start the narrative about a year earlier, while in graduate school, and trace my experiences there, through a summer job programming, and then back to school, where I get my draft notice as I am about to finish my master’s degree in January (1968). I meet a few young men, in these varied environments, whom I look up to, and imagine that they “hands separately” have wind of a global “commie” plot to impose a revolutionary, Maoist “proletarian” life on everyone, to do away with all the parasites and undeserving.

        My Army service happens, but after I get out (in 1970) there is no straightforward adult future. There is only dystopia. “I” (the “me” character is named John Maurcek), and the novel is written superficially in the third person, but John is almost always on stage as the omniscient observer – except for a very few battlefield and personal assassination “hit” scenes where the technological wizardry of Armageddon is previewed.

        Right after he gets out of the Army, John’s “friends” invite him on a “Howdy Doody” style treasure hunt, which leads him to an isolated underground government lab somewhere in the Dakotas. His “soul” is encoded digitally so that he can be subsequently resurrected many times. In the novel, we “wakes up” after 14 years have passed. Shortly, he learns that a nuclear war has just happened, and for the rest of the novel he and a female companion, Tovina, navigate through a wasteland. The setup is a bit like J. J. Abrams’s Revolution but not as intricate; these shelters and encampments are run by authoritarian “shelter managers” but there are no gun battles or predatory militia as in that show. John and Tovina eventually learn the ultimate intentions of The Proles.

        There’s another trick, though. John finds out that he can be reconstructed many times, and that in the fourteen years, he has lived other times, but come to his own self-destruction, where he did not have to take responsibility for his actions because he can be brought back again, making the earlier episodes have the moral status of dreams. But each time he comes back, he looks much older. All of this was conceived before AIDS has been imagined or heard of.

        In my first DADT book (1997), I had covered my experience in the Army in Chapter 2 in some detail, as well as the time in graduate school at the University of Kansas preceding it. In Chapter 3, the narrative of my whole life as an independent working adult starts, where I “come out” a second time.

        In the 1997 book, I covered the Basic Training experience with some degree of courtesy, and with an emphasis on the social justice issues imputed. True, I was concerned with the student deferment issue, but that was embedded in apparently (since then) bigger questions about the moral legitimacy of conscription (is it involuntary servitude?) and the Vietnam War itself (which may not have been as wrong or unnecessary as political correctness today claims).

        But the 1969 manuscript “transcript” of what happened in Basic Combat Training is quite graphic, and going through it in detail again provided a shock to me. Relative to the moral world in which I lived, where sacrifice and regimentation could be demanded of all men (but some men were less privileged than others), I certainly behaved like a moocher, although it’s unclear that I could have done much better at first. One point is that, with time, after about eight weeks in the Army, I suddenly did get better, and not just because of the threats from military discipline. Another was the preoccupation with remaining privileged: if I was “book smart” enough, my life and bod would be sheltered from the hazards of combat, where others would share more of the risk and outright sacrifice. This seems morally double-edged. How is someone supposed to behave around others when immersed in a “wrongful” authoritarian culture? Or was I hypocritical in even “volunteering” for the draft, and then manipulating the system well enough, despite my shortcomings, to avoid the biggest risks myself?

        The old Proles manuscript gives more details about life on campus and among friends (bus trips to their homes) among the months before the storm of the draft came into my life. One important aspect is the way, as an assistant instructor, I had the “power” myself to influence who might become affected by the draft. I turned in grades for students my last morning on campus before returning to Virginia, to be in the Army myself two weeks later.

        The period after Basic, when I was in the Pentagon for the summer and then mysteriously transferred, was also interesting. I was told that the sheltered “mathematician” MOS position at the Pentagon as eliminated, but then I found that someone else had it when I made a visit some months later (making the person uneasy). At Ft. Eustis, among men who were more educated, I could play the “teasing game” in both directions, as I had some of my own peculiar social stature. In the fashion of a scene from The Social Network, we sometimes verbally ranked other men with “GT” scores (“give-take”), noting various kinds of physical flaws in people (and I had my own, which had already appeared in my twenties and might have been exacerbated by Basic).

        The chapter does mention a few characters (like Hans Zugfel) who have already been introduced in the full novel.

        The chapter does, in a stream-of-consciousness mode, use some language that was commonplace in the late 1960s but not as acceptable today (such as the word “Negro” instead of “African American”).

Story, “Expedition” (1981)

        I wrote this story shortly after moving to Dallas, Texas, in 1980. I submitted it to a literary agency in Florida, which touched it up. I’m presenting the Broome Agency’s version. Note that there are a few exaggerations in the manuscript. I never bought the “girl friend” whom I dated in 1971 a ring. We did go on several big dates (like to see Leonard Bernstein’s MASS), and we almost saw the Washington Senators’ last baseball game (in 1971) before they moved to Texas.  There really was an “expedition” into strip-mine and “mountaintop-removal” country with a graduate school friend in 1972, but I take considerable liberties in constructing the story, which is fiction.  

Story, “The Ocelot the Way He Is” (2013)

        Here I set up a few characters, including “me”. One of them invites me on a promising “road trip” the day before the media says a major solar storm will hit. What am I going to do with this situation?