‘The Tape’

(Author’s note: I have many interesting places to go this year and I thought I would add the following ‘search’ to my adventures.  I’d be interested in your feedback of this episodic allegory – good, bad or indifferent.  If you don’t like it, Suzanne will be back next week with something more normal I’m sure.)

by Bob Sparrow

The Tape

‘The Tape’

     I turned The Tape over in my hands several times; examining it like it was a rare gem – which, in fact, it might be.  The title written on the plastic cassette case was ‘In Search of Xoon’.  Xoon was my dog in Japan in 1968.  Titles, I must tell you, were always non-sequiturs of sorts, never really pertaining to anything on the tapes – ‘Music to Slit Your Wrists Over’, ‘Zsa Zsa Sing Bob Dylan’ and ‘Garbage Soup’ to name a few.

     I exchanged a number of cassette tapes with Don while he was living in the Middle East in the late 80s and throughout the 90s.  We’d affect our DJ voices and ‘do a show’ for each other; I’d send him the latest hits from the US, he’d send me off-the-wall songs from his vast collection of eclectic music – we’d separate the music with talk about the news of the day as well as the personal issues going on in our lives – 90 minutes, commercial-free.  It kept us close at a time when the Internet was not available to the common man, or even two uncommon men like ourselves.  I think there were 39 tapes in all, plus the one I was holding, the one he sent toward the end of his stay there; the one in a strange language, a very strange language.  When I first listened to it I thought it was going to confirm that ‘Paul was dead’.  It was just gibberish, backwards or forward.  I fast-forwarded it to see if the gibberish stopped and he started talking in English, it didn’t and he didn’t.  B-side was the same, ninety minutes of gibberish, but it was commercial-free . . . I think.  I concluded that he had spent too much time wandering in the desert sun or had been captured by a herd of Bedouin camels and was forced to confess something.  I think it was he talking on the cassette, although it sounded a bit altered or perhaps addled.  No, I’m sure it was his voice – now that I think about it, it was unmistakable – I could hear the humor in his voice even though I couldn’t understand a word he was saying.  But after 50 years of companionship with this eccentric genius, I was used to not understanding a good deal of what he was saying.

     He lived 13 years in Ta’if, which is in the Sarawat Mountains of Saudi Arabia, so he spoke some Arabic, but The Tape was not in any form of Arabic, it had a much more euphonious, even a melodic lilt to it.  He had lived in Sicily in the shadow of Mt. Etna at Sigonella Navel Air Station and spoke Italian.  He spent several years in Caracas, Venezuela  at the foot of the Maritime Andes, so he knew several dialects of Spanish and Portuguese.  The language on The Tape was none of these.  It didn’t sound like he was reading from something, it sounded very improvisational.      What the hell was he saying and why had he sent this to me?  In subsequent tapes and years later in face-to-face conversations with him when he came back to the states, I’d ask him about The Tape.

I said, “OK, are you going to tell me what was on that crazy tape?”

“Did you destroy it?”

“No”

“So do you mean what is on the tape?”

“Yes!  Were you drinking when you made it?”

“Don’t you have to be drinking to spend 13 years in Saudi Arabia?”

     I got so frustrated with his answering a question with a question that I stopped asking him about it altogether – I’d show him!  Who cares about this stupid, nonsensical tape anyway?  I forgot all about it.

The case

Cassette carrying case

     Every few years, particularly on a long, solitary drive, I’d put my cassette carrying case in my car and pop in tape after tape – it was always great to hear his voice.  I did just that when I drove up to his funeral service following his death in February 2012.  While driving up Interstate 5 and fumbling through the cassettes, I inevitably pulled out The Tape, laughed to myself, shook my head and put it back in the case.  But this time, perhaps because he was now gone, I stopped before I put in another tape and starting thinking about The Tape, what it could possible say, what it could mean and why did he send it to me.  So I ask him to help me solve the mysteries of The Tape.

He said, “Yes, but you do understand about my ‘condition’ don’t you?

“Your condition?”

“Yes, do you think I’m as sharp as I used to be now that I’ve been dead for several weeks?

     For the next 90 minutes I listened to The Tape in its entirety.  I asked him, “What language is that, I don’t understand any of it”

“Do you understand the song Nessun Dorma?” he said.

“No”

“Do you know it?  Do you like it?

“Yes, I think it’s maybe the most beautiful song ever as Pavarotti sings it.”

“But you don’t understand it?”

     I popped it in the car’s cassette player and spent the next 90 minutes listening to The Tape, more carefully this time, and I did hear it a bit differently; I heard more of the rhythm of the tape and . . . perhaps I picked up what might be some small clues as to where to begin my search for the translation and thus the meaning of The Tape.

 

 

AMAZING FAMILY!

suz linda

Suzanne & Linda

by Bob Sparrow

     Who has a better sister and wife than I do?  NoooooooooBody!!  At the risk of beating a dead horse, or at least an old horse, for our readers, I must revisit my 70th birthday celebration and thank a number of people who made it such an AMAZING event.  My first thank you goes to my lovely wife Linda, who orchestrated a weekend of surprise after surprise.  Granted when you have a husband who is totally clueless, it’s easy to pull off surprises, but nonetheless she did a masterful job – a week after the event, I still don’t suspect anything!

      With the ‘Big One’ approaching, Linda asked me how I wanted to celebrate the conclusion of my 70th trip around the sun.  I said I didn’t want a big party, just something with the FAMILY.  That was the end of my participation.  Several days later she told me that she’d booked four villas in Palm Desert at the Marriott Desert Springs, where we love spending a week every April at our timeshare.  Perfect, just the kids, grandkids and us.

Jackalope

Cocktails at Jackalope in the desert

     Late Thursday afternoon, while grubbing around in the yard, the doorbells rings, Linda asks me to get it.  I come to the door in tattered jeans and dirty t-shirt; it’s my brother, Jack and wife Sharon, I greet them with the warm welcome of, “What the hell are you guys doing here?!”  They responded with a Happy Birthday and that they are going to Palm Desert with us.  I’m thrilled.  Later that evening (I did sneak in a shower and change of clothes) the doorbell rings again and, still clueless, I go to the door and there are four couples of our good friends, Mark & Kathy, Jack & JJ, Bob & Marge and John and Judy – they’re standing at our front door singing Christmas carols that turn into Happy Birthday.  When we’re all seated at the bar in our family room, Linda brings out a small box and asks me to open it.  It is a brochure for a 12-day trip for two to Kathmandu, Nepal, which includes a 5-day trek through the foothills of the Himalaya!  My jaw drops!!!  She says, there is no way she’s going, that the trip is for my brother and me.  All I can say is “AMAZING!”

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Jack, Suzanne & me

     By mid-day Friday we’re checking in at the Villas in Palm Desert.  When we got there, there is only one villa that has been cleaned and available, so we walked over to the hotel and had some lunch at poolside in perfect weather.  Upon our return I walked into the one villa we had and I see a man, with his back to us, sitting out on the deck, and assume I went into the wrong villa.  Then one of my favorite people and one of the funniest I know, turns around and wishes me a Happy Birthday – it’s Matt Sparrow, my nephew – Jack’s son.  Fast forward to mid-day Saturday and I get my annual birthday phone call from my sister, who always calls me and sings Happy Birthday the way Marilyn Monroe sang it to Jack Kennedy.  As I’m standing there listening to her, she walks in the door – she had just flown in from Scottsdale – AMAZING!  Later that afternoon close friends and ‘practically family members’, Mark, Kathy and daughter, Kristin (best friend of our daughter, Dana) arrived to celebrate the occasion.

joe dana

Joe & Dana

One last surprise remained.  I was told to stay in my villa as preparations for ‘the party’ Saturday evening were taking place in Joe & Dana’s villa.  When I was asked to ‘come to the party’ I was blown away.  Dana and Joe had decorated the villa with pictures at ‘food stations’ they’d created representing a number of the places we’ve visited, Italy (Meatballs marinara, Fried cheese, beef Carpaccio with lemon arugula), Africa (Moroccan lamb kabobs with Tzatziki sauce, veggie couscous, roasted plantains), Japan (Ahi and Yellowtail crudo, crying tiger beef skewers, garlic and chili edamame) and Hawaii (Kalua pork sliders on Hawaiian rolls, grilled pineapple, Ahi poke). All the food was AMAZING! There we also ‘drink stations’ from Ireland (beer and Irish whiskey), my Dad’s famous martinis at ‘Poppin’s Grotto’ and ‘Klappers’ (cheap rum and diet cola) named after my dearly departed best friend, Don Klapperich.  The birthday cake, in a ‘travel and music’ theme had a quote from me about traveling and seeing things a little differently than most.  Dana then gave me a box decorated in the ‘travel and music’ theme that she had put together, containing 70 individual birthday wishes from friends and family (you saw my sister’s in last week’s blog) – they were AMAZING!  A huge thank you to those who took the time to write something nice and send it back (for some I’m certain it took quite some time to find something nice to say).  Seriously, I am was touched and am blessed to have such wonderful friends.

3 kids

Stephanie, Jeff & Dana

Thank you to an AMAZING FAMILY, especially those who made this an unforgettable (even for a forgetful 70 year old) experience – Stephanie, Jason, Dylan & Emma; Dana & Joe, Jeff, Jack & Sharon, Suzanne, Matt, (Mark, Kathy & Kristin) and especially to Linda whose dedication to FAMILY is unsurpassed.  To quote Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man on the face of the earth”.

    OK, enough with the birthday stuff, I’ve got some really interesting places to take you next year – hope you’ll enjoy them vicariously ‘from a bird’s eye view’.

HOPE YOU AND YOUR FAMILY HAVE A MERRY CHRISTMAS AND AN ADVENTUROUS NEW YEAR! 

Missed Saigon

by Bob Sparrow

MissSaigonPreface   Back when the earth was still cooling and I was in the Navy (Yes, ours), I was stationed in Japan at Atsugi Navel Air Station and was an Ensign (Yes, and officer and a gentleman by an ACT of CONGRESS) on the staff of COMFAIRWESTPAC, which was ‘Navy-speak’ for, Commander, Fleet Air, Western Pacific.  My duties, aside from getting the Admiral’s coffee and newspaper to him in a timely manner each morning, eventually included arranging for the shipping of damaged helicopters out of Viet Nam to a repair facility in Japan and then shipping the repaired aircraft back into Viet Nam.  I had three seamen working for me at the time who took turns ‘escorting’ the repaired aircraft on the ships going back to the port of Da Nang, in South Viet Nam. 

elephants

I hate these ‘magnificent ceramic elephants’!

I eventually wanted to have a better understanding of what these escorts actually did and since I was in the Navy and had never set foot aboard a ship, I asked my commanding officer permission to be out of the office for a while and escort the next batch of helicopters headed ‘in country’.  Permission was granted.  I had a buddy, who was flying supply missions in a C-130 transport aircraft between Da Nang and Saigon, who told me he could throw me in with the cargo anytime if I wanted to tag along.  So I requested and was granted a couple of extra days for my trip.  This was 1969 and the war was in full swing and I wasn’t looking for a vacation, but rather wanted to see first hand, from a relatively safe distance, what was really going on.  Three days before my ship sailed out of Yokohama for Da Nang, my commanding officer had an opportunity to go to Bangkok, Thailand to pick up some ‘magnificent ceramic elephants’ for his wife and told me I needed to stay and man the office, that I could be an escort another time.  A ‘Reduction In Forces’ memo came out not too long after that and there was not ‘another time’, I was soon on my way home and out of the Navy (Yes, honorably).

welcom     So I never got to Da Nang and subsequently Missed Saigon, but I live in Orange County, which I’ve come to find out, has the largest Vietnamese population in the world, outside of Vietnam, some 200,000.  So my ‘in country’ plan evolved, after 44 years, into my ‘in county’ plan and eventually permission was granted by my commanding officer – my wife.

   

The Beginning of ‘Little Saigon’  After the Fall of Saigon in 1975 many Vietnamese refugees migrated to Southern California because, well, why anyone else would migrate to Southern California, the weather.  More and more gathered in the City of Westminster and eventually in 1988, then Governor George Deukmejian officially designated part of Westminster as ‘Little Saigon’.

Most of the literature I read about ‘Little Saigon’ prior to driving the 15 miles over there, described the food, the jewelry, the food, some temples and the food.   I learned that Pho (pronounced ‘Faa’), which is a noodle soup consisting of rice noodles, broth, meat and some spices, was the most popular Vietnamese dish.

The Trip – My son, Jeff is a lover of all food foreign, so I asked if he wanted to meet me for some Pho and an exploration of ‘Little Saigon’ – he obliged.

  We met at the HA NOI restaurant (Must have been in the northern part of town) and had a wonderful meal served by an older  gentleman who didn’t speak one word of English, but recommended several dishes by pointing to some pictures on the menu and making some Jeffsort of cooking gestures – what ever we ordered, it was delicious.  Jeff likes his food spicy, so he added some contents from a container on the table to his food; from his reaction, it might have been a bit too spicy, but it said it was good . . . through watering eyes.

Unfortunately that was the highlight of our trip.  I checked to see if there were any tours of ‘Little Saigon’ available – there are none.  ‘Little Saigon’ is a place of contradictions; it is of course East meeting West, so we shouldn’t have been surprised to see the Sun Moon Bakery or the sign in the jewelry mart reading, ‘Lien Phat’ (Lean Fat?), which was more confusing albeit less disturbing than ‘Dai Phat’.

2013-08-01 17.13.24       dai phat       DaiPhat

But for me there was too much West and not enough East. I expected narrow streets lined with colorful garments hanging from two-story wooden buildings, the smell of spicy food offered by traditionally dressed street vendors, Asian music playing – basically some Far East atmosphere.  What we got was a series of strip malls on a busy Southern California street.  It was sort of like Barstow with strip mall storefront signs you could only partly read.

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The Conclusion – For my money, if you want some good Vietnamese food, visit ‘Little Saigon’, if you want to get the feel of old Viet Nam, see ‘Miss Saigon’ or go to old Viet Nam.