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Monday, April 26, 2010

JJ: Women of '87

I dated a couple of ladies after the divorce, one of them was a deaf divorcee named Flo. I'd met her through the store and got better acquainted with her when my friend Laird started dating her after his marriage broke up.

He didn't mesh well with her or her two kids. Neither did I. Interestingly, in the "small world" theme, her ex-husband had served on the gunboats when I did, though we never met. We had mutual friends.

The other lady was Marge, the manager of Waldenbooks. We were friends and had a little history together as business competitors who actually cooperated with each other quite well. Our reading tastes and interest in books gave us some great conversations and we had some fun times, but I think we were doomed from the start. She was a little younger than I but a lot more mature, and we found some major philosophical differences.

For one thing, my driving scared her to death. What was pure pleasure for me was panic for her -- she just couldn't appreciate powering around corners at twice the posted speed or the joy of sliding broadside down a gravel road . . .

The death blow to the relationship came from a movie, though. I took her to see Platoon. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, it was the first movie about Vietnam directed by a Vietnam vet, and it is pretty gritty. I would recommend it. Yeah, it has cliches, but cliches tend to be based on truth.

Oliver Stone's breakthrough as a director, Platoon is a brutally realistic look at a young soldier's tour of duty in Vietnam. Chris Taylor (Charlie Sheen) is a college student who quits school to volunteer for the Army in the late '60s. He's shipped off to Vietnam, where he serves with a culturally diverse group of fellow soldiers under two men who lead the platoon: Sgt. Barnes (Tom Berenger), whose facial scars are a mirror of the violence and corruption of his soul, and Sgt. Elias (Willem Dafoe), who maintains a Zen-like calm in the jungle and fights with both personal and moral courage even though he no longer believes in the war. After a few weeks "in country," Taylor begins to see the naïveté of his views of the war, especially after a quick search for enemy troops devolves into a round of murder and rape. Unlike Hollywood's first wave of Vietnam movies (including The Deer Hunter, Apocalypse Now, and Coming Home), Platoon is a grunt's-eye view of the war, touching on moral issues but focusing on the men who fought the battles and suffered the wounds. In this sense, it resembles older war movies more than its Vietnam peers, as it mixes familiar elements of onscreen battle with small realistic details: bugs, jungle rot, exhaustion, C-rations, marijuana, and counting the days before you go home. This mix of traditional war movie elements with a contemporary sensibility won Platoon four Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director, and a reputation as one of the definitive modern war films.

Like in the usual movie, there are good guys and bad guys, sorta, but this time they are on the same side. To make a long story short, at the climax of the movie Sheen confronts the injured Berenger, who first orders him to help and then dares "Go on, shoot me."

Marge, pale, with her hands over he mouth, whispered "Oh, don't!" at the same time I said "Do it!"

As I recall, that was our last date.