It’s a strange thing a company going under. I guess the signs are all there. The warning signs of thing going bad- layoffs, ‘strategic downsizing’ and other euphemisms. I went through it more than a few times in my day. It’s easy when you’re a youth, it’s another story when you have a family.
The first time I got the rug pulled out from me was much, much worse. I’d taken a job with Howard Johnson in what was then called Saigon, South Vietnam. They signed the Paris Peace Accords in ‘73, and I thought that meant peace, or some approximation of it. Howard Johnson offered me a mountain of cash to help manage a hotel over there. I caught some shit for going over after all those years of doing my best not to get drafted, but the money was good and I was broke.
The first year was ok, the war seemed distant- it seemed the commies might just keep their promises and peace might finally come to this war torn country. By March ‘75 it was another story. At night I sat with a crate of 33 beer, a big bag of weed and my speakers on full blast to keep out the noise of the shells falling.
Just like a business, those in charge just ask the rank and file to give more-fight harder, rage against the dying light. Here, though, those boys on the line didn’t lose just lose their jobs. Their only severance was a name in a leger, perhaps on a stone, but more often listed as ‘know only to God.’
The city was chaos with refugees. Masses pouring in infront of a rapidly approaching enemy. The money becomes worthless, fear is the only currency here. ‘Hope’ goes from alive in the hearts of many, to the hearts of optimists, to something only propaganda posters talk about.
I looked out from the deserted hotel, in the pre monsoon heat the city teemed, soon to be tamed by the iron discipline taught by Uncle Ho. For this moment, though, the legacy in rock and roll, mini skirts and war babies left by that awful war was still in full swing. It was surreal.
One lazy day of empty rooms rolled into another that sizzling April, the days only punctuated by explosion and bad news. It came while I was swimming in the pool. I would get loaded and go for a swim where once the officers and VIPs and their leading ladies- or ladies by the hour once froliced. I kept a radio near the pool. At first it was just for the tunes- rock and roll while I killed the hours in the Republic of Not-to-be. The party was now just for one, the sound system a simple transistor number from Japan. When the song finally played the vast pool echoed for only one set of ears.
The radio played a version I’d never heard before. It wasn’t Bing Crosby, some other version but the message was loud and clear.
I sat in the embassy still smelling like chlorine, now mixed with sweat and fear. Every christmas since then I can smell that scent, when that song plays I remember what the feeling of the whole house collapsing feels like.