By Brian Wask
Hell’s Kitchen, NYC- In 2004 the journalist and historian Thomas Frank published, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” In the United Kingdom and Australia it was called “What’s the Matter with America?” The book was more or less about conservatives and Bush and things I promised I wouldn’t get into anymore. It’s too painful… and boring… and redundant… and beyond any logic. I haven’t read the book but if Frank figured out what was wrong with the Great Plains state I’d like to know. I have some ideas of my own. First, the population is 91% white. That doesn’t sound very fun. I’ve been there but I’ve never seen anybody. No whites, blacks or gays. Nothing. Not even at the gas station. It was self-service and there was a bucket to put the money in. I thought I saw someone standing alone in the middle of a state-length cornfield. But it was a scarecrow. My second problem, the Kansas Veterans Action Committee, spearheaded by Vietnam Veteran John Wilson, seems to think there’s no room in Wichita’s Veterans Memorial Park for a monument dedicated to the 200,000 South Vietnamese soldiers who fought and died beside Americans.
In a photo printed by the NY Times, Mr. Wilson, along with Douglas Brady and Phillip W. Blake (two old coots I wish my grandfather was around to smack the crap out of), proudly stand before a memorial that reads, DEDICATED TO THOSE LIVES AFFECTED BY VIETNAM. Not quite. I think. When some South Vietnamese Wichita citizens planned a future memorial to be placed nearby the American vets signed up against them quicker than they did the first time. But the problem with these guys is they still think the war is what they thought it was. And they don’t know it’s over and we’ve figured it out by now. Maybe that’s what’s the matter with Kansas. But I’m so proud. While a Jewish-American is buying surfboards for kids in Gaza, Kansan-Americans are telling Vietnamese-Americans they have no place near or in sight of the US military memorials.
Dorian Paskowitz is eighty-six years old, a retired doctor and a surf traveler. In the fifties, after two failed marriages, he quit his practice, moved to Israel for a year and volunteered for the army during the Suez crisis against Egypt. When he was turned down he moved back to the states and surfed full time. Last week he gave 12 surfboards to a Gazan surf community because he thinks they will make good use of them. He’s so damn right. Dorian’s got the message. Wilson and his disgruntled hate gang should take a page from the old Jewish guy. Instead, they eventually allowed the new memorial to be placed outside the park and behind a wall. “God will surf with the devil if the waves are good,” Dorian Paskowitz said. “When a surfer sees another surfer with a board, he can’t help but say something that brings them together.” I get it. And I don’t surf.
Maybe you got some hang ups and you still blame the Vietnamese. That’s common, and treatable. But what feels better? Wouldn’t it be nice to have something nearby future generations will look at and think we can have friends from different places? What’s next? At the supermarket no German knockwurst next to matzo ball soup. At the toy store no GI Joes next to Cobras. Wilson and friends, even though you look like dicks in the picture and sound like even bigger dicks in the press, I love Kansas and I want you to change. You look old enough to count your breaths and I hope you’re thinking better things when the last one leaves. This is just what I think. And it doesn’t feel good either.
(I reached out to the original GI Joe, the 12in. figure. I wanted to see what he thought about veterans turning their backs on allied veterans. He’s been strung out on heroin since ’82, when they started making the 4in. figures. But he thought it was pretty sad. In his words, “Everything kinda is.”)