Wednesday, May 6, 2015


Sisyphus, a  very shrewd character from Greek mythology can easily be compared to the pool players of today.  Sisyphus angered the gods with his wily ways and was condemned by them, to roll a large boulder up a hill for eternity, only to have that boulder break away from his control, before he reached the top.

This is kind of what it is like to be a pool player.  For all of the hard work that we put into pool, we are continuously forced to go back and start again.  The competent pool player learns different ways to push the boulder up the hill only to see the task repeated over and over.  Still he soldiers on, not unlike Sisyphus, determined to find a way to move the boulder to the top of the hill.  It is a task that must provide its own reward; that of self-satisfaction, knowing that quality effort was put forth each and every time, despite the reality that the path of the “boulder” will regularly be shaken from our grasp. 

Most of the time, the failure is our own fault and despite the fact that we will sometimes blame outside interference but like Sisyphus, in our failing, we must not be deterred and must seek  to learn new ways to push that boulder up the hill in an attempt to perfect our technique.  We must strive for perfection in practice but accept the fact that mistakes will always be made in competition.

Know the reason why you play the game and seek to have satisfaction in the toil.  Give your best effort each and every time, even when you come to the eventual conclusion that you will always be required to start pushing that boulder back up the hill.  The summit is sometimes obtainable by persistence and dedication but you won’t stay nearby for long unless you remember what got you there in the first place.

“The struggle is enough to fill a man’s heart.  One must assume that Sisyphus was happy.”  Is it absurd to wonder if a pool player can ever be truly happy?


Friday, November 28, 2014


Now poverty means different things to different people but in my discussion about poverty, I’m talking about having enough quality food to eat, clean water to drink, enough clothes to keep you clean and comfortable and a nice safe place to rest your head at night.  This to me, is the positive side of the borderline of poverty.  However poverty means different things in different countries.  In America, there is no logical reason for practically anyone to stay poor.  If you seek education, work hard, spend your money wisely and spend less than you make, you are bound to prosper.  If you are poor, lazy and inclined to have someone take care of you, you will most likely always remain poor, lazy and inclined to have someone take care of you.  Making excuses about why you are poor is just that excuses.  The secret is to have an aversion to ward poverty so strong that you are motivated to seek out knowledge and work like the devil.  I can’t say that I was born with that aversion but somehow I grew into it.

To stay alive or to help improve the chances of you staying alive, I learned at a later date, that volunteering for anything, while you were in Vietnam was NOT A GOOD IDEA.  I guess you could say that I was lucky.  No, I’ll say it for me.  I am lucky.

But this isn't really about being lucky, brave or scared or any of the things that you might associate with war.  It is about curiosity and compassion. 

The villagers near LZ Ross located in the Quang Nam Province (South Vietnam as it was called back then) were very poor as most of the rural people of Vietnam were at least by American standards.  Before I go any further, I have some credibility upon which to judge the level of poverty one might experience, having grown up in a family of 8, which included my two parents.  As a child, I grew up on a farm, where we had an outhouse instead of a toilet with running water.  We often used Sears Catalog for cleaning up, if you know what I mean.  My mom’s stove was a wood stove and that’s where she cooked for all eight of us.  That meant that the family had to cut their own firewood to heat the stove, just so you know.  And for heat, yeah, we had central heat but the only reason you could call it central heat is because it was centrally located in the very small house that we lived in and the only heat in the house came out of the fire place.  My mom’s washing machine was one of those manual washing machines whose only automation was the wringer which squeezed the water from the clothes as you turned the handle with strong arms.  A flat washboard was placed vertically inside of the “washing machine” which had a  corrugated  or ridged rectangular surface which you used for manually scrubbing the clothes.  For hot water, well, you had to heat cold water that was pumped from an old fashion outdoor hand pump well.  After filling the kettle, pot or what have you with fresh cold water from the well, you had to transport the amount needed for the job to the wood stove, heat it until boiling then transport it back out into the back yard where the “washing machine” stood.  With two of the children still in diapers (yes the old soft cotton type that you used safety pins to bind them to child’s body), the washing machine was used on a very regular basis.  There were no stores to purchase high technology Pampers or such things.  This was back in the age of the dinosaurs; well actually it was back around 1950-1960 when we lived in Husser, Louisiana on a dairy farm.  Our family received not one red cent from welfare or any other government program.  The church didn't provide us with anything either.  We just managed to do without, to endure and to put one foot in front of the other, all without stealing or robbing our neighbors.
When we first moved there, dad had no experience at dairy farming but gave it his best, at first milking a herd of  about 30 “dairy” cows by hand (yes, that means no milking machines, but they did come later).

Breakfast amounted to fresh home-made fried bread and coffee.  No milk for the children or anyone else unless Mom would sneak out to the dairy barn to get her children some needed nutrition which she did on occasion to the ire of dad.  Most of the time, he would just scowl because he knew Mom could only take so much of deprivation, especially when it came to her children.  Anyway, food was scarce.  We didn't have any past experience at farming of any kind.  Neighbors would occasionally lend a hand, plowing a field and helping us plant some peanuts, where we could derive some needed nutrition.  The school I went to was Loranger Elementary School and they actually allowed us to go to school barefoot and I did that on more than an occasion or two, not because I liked it but because I just didn't have any shoes to wear at the time.  My parents weren't made of money and they didn't believe in wasting anything.  Hand me downs were the order of the day.  Hand me downs are clothes that are passed from one sibling to the next as they grew out of them and we shared most everything until they were too tattered to sew or patch a hole.

Now I’m going to stop right now about how I came to be a respectable judge of poverty because I don’t want to stray too far from the story I planned to tell and I don’t want you to think I am sitting on the pity-potty and I don’t want you to do that either for me or my family.  It wasn't all that bad.  Being poor isn't bad, it’s just being poor.  My childhood was filled with enjoyable and memorable things in addition to being dirt poor but rather than go on and on about just how poor we were, I’ll save that for another story and get back to Vietnam.

When we would return from the bush (patrolling the outskirts of the base) after several days we would return to the LZ Ross to rest, write letters and eat in the mess hall where lots of nourishing food and milk waited for us.  We had limited time to eat and drink, so there was no lollygagging allowed.  One thing they taught you in the Marine Corps was not to dawdle.  In Vietnam, people that stayed in one place too long unless immensely fortified, were subject to the enemies’ venom which could come in any form at any moment.  Each day, we would empty the milk that we did not completely drink into a 55 gallon metal drum.  Our paper and plastic would be placed in another drum and our food was scraped into the milk drum making a mixture of milk and food.  When the meal was finished, they would ask for volunteers to guard the Deuce And A Half, which was a M35 truck which carried cargo , men and sometimes was equipped with weapons.  Generally, two trucks would be loaded with the barrels of milk and food and be brought to the village.  The village elders would determine who got which portions.  New guys like me with more curiosity and compassion about how these people lived would volunteer to guard the milk and food.  Now anywhere in Vietnam was hazardous but I didn't volunteer because I was daring, brave or stupid.  I just had an insatiable desire to know how other people lived. 

So, essentially the barrels of mixed food and milk were placed inside the truck, and I would take my M 16 rifle and stand guard next to the drums.  Now you might wonder, why in the world would you need someone to guard this mix of milk and food?  Well, the primary job wasn't to guard the milk and food but to provide protection to the truck in case it was fired upon.  No heavy weapons were mounted on the particular trucks that I rode on. The M 35, 2 ½ ton (deuce and half) trucks that I road on and the drivers had to drive EXCEPTIONALLY SLOW so as to avoid spilling the contents all over the back of the large truck which measured almost 7 meters long and 2 ½ meters wide.  This meant that the truck was an easy slow moving target but thankfully, all of the runs I went on, we were never attacked.  I learned later how volunteering can get you killed but then I was just young, innocent, curious and ignorant about how dangerous of an occupation I had chosen.

As we pulled into the village to offload the treasure, young boys ranging in age from probably 7-11 years of age, would be waving and smiling.  Each was holding a one gallon paint bucket in one hand and waving with the other.  I had been coached about these reprehensible miscreants in advance and knew their tactics.  I also was told it was my job to make sure that NO ONE attempted to climb on board the truck for our safety of course.  Well, my attention was primarily scanning the area for any possible threat with my weapon locked and loaded.  I always carried my rifle on safety, having been taught that from the very beginning of weapons training and having witnessed one of our own guys leaving his weapon off safety, handing his weapon to a friend to help him climb an embankment only to have the weapon go off and shoot him in the chest, killing him on the spot.  Still, I was vigilant for any sign of possible attack.  We were told to move quickly and the truck had barely come to a halt when much to my surprise, these very skinny boys, would hop like monkeys, first onto the hubs of the very high and large wheels, then onto the top of the tires, flinging their one gallon empty paint buckets at the drums of slosh, hoping to get a half gallon of slosh, for what purpose I still to this day don’t know.  I always assumed that the slosh was given to livestock, most likely pigs to eat, but there was such a frantic rush to get the food from the mess hall to the village, I don’t know if the villagers actually ate/drank any of the concoction or not.  As one fleet of foot, skinny-ass kid would move like lightning toward the barrel on one side of the truck, I would make menacing motions, loud grunts and piercing eyes, sometime sweeping the butt of my rifle toward them as if to strike them.  They would dart out of the way as fast as a hummingbird reverses direction without a thought or care of what I did.  As fast as I scared off one kid, another would appear on the opposite side of the truck, quickly dipping his one gallon paint bucket into the barrel of slosh.  It was a game of sorts, repeated over and over until the elders of the village arrived, which only seemed like minutes but was more likely just seconds.  The elders would motion the youngsters away and calm would be the order of the day.  We unloaded the barrels quickly and left without every knowing what they did with those barrels of milk and food.  Coming from a dairy farm, I often wondered if the children who often lived in houses that looked like they were made of sticks, mud, straw and occasionally siding made of coke boxes of all things were actually depending on  this slosh for nourishment.  The ugly truth is as a child, I was far richer than any of these children would ever live to be.  I learned that poverty is only a relative term and poverty doesn't make you a bad person.  It can actually be a fuel to propel you to your life’s dreams as it did me.  When I visit my doctors and nurses, new ones will always ask me if I am allergic to anything and I always reply, “Only poverty.”.

Thanks to one of life’s lessons learned in the tropics of Southeast Asia in a place called Vietnam.


Thursday, November 27, 2014


When I volunteered to join the Marines, I was 19 years of age.  My brother was a few years older than me and he had already paved the way for me.  My brother Barry spent 27 months in Vietnam and he came back all right or so I thought.  At least, I didn't seen any scars or missing limbs.  So I figured if it was good enough for my brother, it was good enough for me.  I had always looked up to Barry for many different reasons, but the most recent one was that he had joined the Marines and was the better man for it as far as I could see.  When he joined, he was a tough guy, when he came back, I though he was Superman and he was, at least to me.

I was a skinny 19 year old kid, who couldn't afford to go to college and my parents couldn't afford to take care of me any longer.  In those days, parents often allowed their children to make decisions like this.  I knew that my brother was finishing up his military obligation and I surmised that I would most likely be sent over to Vietnam as quickly as possible.  This was around November of 1969 and the war was still going on.  I figured that the Marines would get me into good physical condition and I would be the better for it so since I had no idea about mortality and was confident that if my brother could survive two tours of duty in Vietnam, I could survive one.  I joined for two years based upon my brother's advice.  He had told me that this was the way to go because if you joined for two years and liked it, you could re-up for additional active time in service and the government would pay you an extra bonus.  If you joined for 4 years, they would just have you for 4 years and no extra bonus.  So that's what I did, two years.

Boot camp, ITR, & BITS training went fast.  I developed into a lean, mean, fighting machine or so I thought.  This short and humorous story is about sleeping under the stars in Vietnam.  It's meant to be a small window for you to look through at one moment in time and you won't have to get the hankie out except to wipe away the tears of laughter.  Well, some of you might not think it is funny but looking back, it was probably the funniest thing I experienced in Vietnam.

Our unit was located in the Quang Nam Province of South Vietnam and were responsible of guarding one of two "bases", LZ Baldy or LZ Ross.  Essentially, we would do patrols around the bases, dancing with the Viet Cong and the NVA.

I always liked going back to the LZ Baldy or LZ Ross because after being out in the bush for a few days up to a couple of weeks on patrol, you could go back to the "base" and rest, write letters, drink, play cards or do whatever you wanted to do.

If you got sick or hurt out in the bush and you had to go back to the "base", they would make you stand guard duty and you didn't get much sleep then, so I made it a habit not to get sick or hurt while out in the field.

On this one particular patrol we had been out only a few days, when I was setting up sleeping quarters for the night.  The set up was a quick one for only a one night stay so that consisted of a few pieces of chopped bamboo to hoist my poncho over my head and keep the night's mist or rain off of me for the most part.  I didn't have a knife or hatchet with me and there was lots of green bamboo around but if you ever tried to break it off with your hands, you know it didn't like to break off very easily.  So with my MC high IQ, I pull out my trusty entrenching tool which could do almost any task I put it to and began using it to chop some nice size bamboo sticks down.  I bent down one perfect size bamboo stalk and stepped on the middle of the bamboo to keep it steady while I beat down on it with my ever reliable entrenching tool, determined to make quick work of cutting the bamboo down.  After a couple of whacks, I could see that I had to put my back into it because the entrenching tool just wasn't cutting into this particular piece of green bamboo.  I held the bamboo down close to the ground with my left foot and gave a vicious swing and the entrenching tool came down fast and hard. The entrenching tool bounced off that bamboo like a rubber ball off a school yard, right into my shin bone.

Now, keep in mind, we were out on patrol and setting up for the night in the middle of VC country and my eyes bulged out of my head as the pain shot through my body.  I crumpled to the ground, suppressing a loud scream with intense low grunts and growls, that probably sounded more like a loud moan that wanted to be a screech more than anything else.  I quickly gave up on chopping any more bamboo for the night and wrapped myself in the poncho and lay down for the night,  The pain was severe although I could tell that I had not broken the bone.  The skin was cut nicely but the bone put up a good fight and I didn't think I had much tissue damage.  It was already turning dark so I lay down in the dark, in pain, unable to sleep.  I was tough, really tough.  Hell, all of us were tough, really tough.  They trained us to be tough and suck up the pain I did but not for the reason you might think.  It wasn't about some machismo thing.  It wasn't to show my buddies how tough I was.  It wasn't even about trying to prove something to myself.  What it was, was that I didn't want to serve no damned guard duty when I got back to LZ Baldy.  Remember, if you got injured and had to go back to the rear (base) you would most assuredly have to stand guard duty at night, looking through night lenses at apparitions trying to make their way through the concertina wire surrounding the base.  I hated that duty more than risking my life in the field, I really did.  So, I hunkered down for the night and just sucked up the pain.

The night passed pretty quickly for me although the sleep was restless.  Most nights, we were exhausted from marching most of the day with gear that weighed more than half of our body weight.  Most nights the sleep came fast and hard.  It was also short.  You see, we had guard duty at night out in the field too, sometimes setting up nighttime ambushes for the enemy and just to protect our unit from them as well.  When you got back to the rear, you could sleep all night long and that was a treasure I thoroughly enjoyed.  I don't remember having a watch that night but remember waking up that morning and as always, woke with a start.  You kind of did that automatically, waking up with a start.  It was kind of scary over there and you had better be alert even when you are sleeping.  Anyway, I wake up fast and throw the poncho to my side and stand up rather quickly and went down a bit faster than when I stood up.  I slept with my boots on like I did most nights in the field, sometimes changing the socks to keep from getting jungle rot on my feet.  Jungle rot is a kind of tropical scab wound that never heals completely.  Many Vietnam veterans still suffer from jungle rot but for the most part jungle rot is supposed to leave your body after you get out of that particular environment of wet and cold and wet and warm conditions that seldom changes, except with the monsoon rains and the seasons changing.

I quickly realized that something was seriously wrong.  I could not even stand on my feet because the pain was so great.  My buddies called our corpsman over.  Navy Corpsmen were the medical staff of the Marines in the field.  They were also some of the bravest men I ever met in Vietnam.  The corpsman quickly deduced that I had a severe infection in my leg from the entrenching tool fight that I had the night before.  My leg had swollen to twice its normal size and he had to entirely unlace my boots for me because any movement quickly caused me to wince like a wuss.  He suggested a medevac (medical evacuation) for me because I not only couldn't walk but couldn't stand.  I knew that would mean that I would be standing guard duty back at the LZ looking through those damned night scopes half of the night if not longer.  We only had two more days in the field and we would be back at the LZ, able to sleep long hours, eat mess hall food, drink, rest, write letters etc.  I asked him to doctor me up so that I could make it for the next two days.  As I recall he gave me a penicillin shot or some type an antibiotic to fight the infection and another shot that numbed the pain.   He cleaned the wound which wasn't bleeding any more, bandaged it and by the time the squad was on the move, I had found a hearty stick to lean on and away I went oblivious to the injury, looking forward to those nice long fits of sleep waiting for me back at the LZ.

Over these many years like most veterans, I seldom talked about what really happened over there.  No one really wanted to know or so it seemed and quite frankly some of the stories aren't easy to share. We really didn't get a welcome mat when we returned home, so most of us just shut it up inside of us.  It's been over 40 years now and while it might not be easy, some of us should record our stories, if just to act as a warning beacon for those to follow.  The deadlier stories can be told by some and others will keep those to their grave.  Some feel it is better not to relive some of the stories and that's what you do when you tell it to anyone.  It isn't easy to relive some of those stories.  This one was warm and fuzzy and I hope it brings a smile to your face, knowing that some silly things happen in war and some of us can look back on those stories and laugh about our innocence and ignorance.

We all started out that way but that changed rather quickly as many of you already know.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my brothers and sisters. 11-27-14

Joey Aguzin
Class of 1969-1971.
From the summer of 1970.