Fun Filled Days (Revised)
Lynn and T'ang were of Vietnamese extraction; the former being a girl and the latter a boy. Of consanguineous relation, both had become walking companions of mine. When school ended, I usually ambulated with them to their apartment. They did not live too far from Elizabeth. There were two ways to get to their residence. I normally frequented the shortest route. I walked down Coldwater Canyon to Vose. Proceeding up this street, I reached Alcove where I turned left. Advancing further, I came to Barbra Ann Street. Here, I entered an enclosed alleyway. It would lead to my classmates' neighborhood. I soon came to their place of living. I had taken the inversion of course returning to Coldwater Canyon Apartments. I recall quite vividly those evenings walking back. Prior to turning down Basset St., I could smell the fragrance of gardenia blossoms. Homeowners who were inclined to do so, placed them in front of their homes. The scent emanated through the atmosphere. It never failed to produce a soothing effect on me.
The alleyway on Barbra Ann I often walked alone. However, Lynn and T'ang had been with me on many occasions. We were constantly confronted with the less desirable side of the city. On the left and right of us stood chain locked fences. Behind these were concrete walls with graffiti sprawled across them. This is quite common in Los Angles. Gangs often claimed their turf by such outward expressions. On the other hand, a particular faction might insult their rivals. Neighborhood alleyways were a scene of obscenities. It was seen in the one my schoolmates' and I walked through. As we would emerge from the opposite end, I remember a maple tree stood not far distant. It appeared most beautiful during the Fall. The leaves bedazzled me. There sugared brown foliage with a blend of yellow and red, seemed to reflect a spectrum of other colors. I recollect a light wind would blow softly as the laminas rustled. It showed a blissful season. Autumn clothed this maple tree with vibrant shades. It appeared a tiara of serenity.
Stepping from the alley, my classmates and me came to a certain street. On one side of it were apartments. Each consisted of two story units. Across from these small brick homes sat abreast. We came around a street curve. Lynn and Tang’s apartment could be seen at our immediate left. It was located before reaching a cul de sac. Both would go inside a few minutes. They returned only to go back in an hour later. They never stayed outside long; the reason being their parents forbade them. Lynn and T'ang apprised me of their Vietnamese tradition. It is one that is commonly known as Buddhism. The custom has been around for centuries. My schoolmates' parents paid homage to a teacher. He was an ancient figure many Asians believe existed. Siddhartha Gautama Buddha as his name suggest, founded the religion. He lived somewhere during the first and second centuries. His birthplace was in Lumbini, India. He died in the city of Kushinagar, which is a day's travel from his place of origin.
The exact date of his demise is uncertain. Some speculate he may have died in 486 to 483 BCE. What is definite is that he did exist. The word Buddha means awakened or enlightened one. The import of his message was to practice a life abstinence and mediation. Through this state one can achieve nirvana. There is an antiquated account given of Siddhartha. It of course originated in India. The story explains how he was initially a prince. His father...the king of his domain...attempted to shield his son from the outside world. He did this by keeping him within palace walls. However, overcome with curiosity, the prince desired to see beyond his royal confines. He asked his own personal charioteer to take him on a series of rides. It was to be through the countryside. During the Buddha's journeys he encountered three individuals. The first was an aged man, second a sickly one, and third a corpse.
The stark realities of old age, disease, and death caused the prince to become depressed. It was not long before a fourth person appeared. He was a wandering ascetic. At Siddhartha's request, his charioteer disclosed to him how he renounced material possessions. It was this act that released the man from suffering and death. Eventually, the noble ruler decided to think on his experiences. After much reflection, he chose to live an abstemious existence as well. He desired to stop aging; he gave up his wealth and traversed the country. Siddhartha taught people his method of gaining enlightenment; hence, Buddhism began. Lynn and T'ang's parents revered their pedagogic guide. Daily they paid devotion to what they considered an immortal figure. My guess is that they stood before a representation of Buddha while humming and chanting. I am not sure of how the ritual was done however.
My friends' parents eventually stopped me from coming around. It happened on my usual walk to their place. It was T'ang and I that afternoon. Lynn had not been present with us. Inquisitive as I was, I began asking him about his religion. He told me what he understood it to be, or rather, what his body of beliefs were as a central point of the Vietnamese custom. In return, I shared some religious tenants taught to me. My mother had early instilled biblical principles in my brothers and me. Often, she would tell us of those men of antiquity. The most dominant subject Wallace, Marcus, and I heard was the Exodus narrative. I repeated to T'ang what I learned at my mother's lap. When the two of us reached his place, he went inside. T'ang stayed there for some time. Finally, he came back outside. He conveyed to me words I could not fail to understand. 'My parents don't want you to come back again. “Why”? I remember asking. Because you are a Christian they said.” He then turned and walked inside.
Elizabeth's mother prevented me interacting with her daughter. The reason being, I was simply black. I somewhat comprehended this harsh reality. On the other hand, Lynn and Tang’s parents dismissal of me, left a big question in my mind. It was a mystery I could not yet fathom. By adulthood however, I could rationalize the motive behind their actions. I believe Lynn and Tang's parents did not want their children exposed to any church doctrine. Most Vietnamese likely judged Christianity as corrupt. If so, this attitude might have stemmed back to the Vietnamese War. I read somewhere there were certain Catholic clergy not to mention religious order"The Society of Jesus"which instigated this historical conflict. During the sixteenth century, Jesuit missionaries had undertaken to convert the natives of Vietnam to Catholicism. The effort was at first slow to succeed. At the turn of the twentieth century, proselytization met with greater success.
Vietnam was eventually divided into two political rival states: North and South. The latter had a population made up mostly of Catholics. As for the former, a large percentage were Buddhist. Both sides became embroiled in a civil war. It started when Dinh Diem, the president of south Vietnam, initiated a series of repressive acts. He was an avowed catholic who intended to unify the country under Catholicism. He passed laws aimed to stop Buddhist from practicing their religion. Many led mass demonstrations against these oppressive statues. Violence erupted when the southern regime had nine Buddhists gunned down. Furthermore, policies were enacted to prevent the display of Buddhist flags. Ho Chi Minh, the president of north Vietnam wanted to unite his country under Buddhism. He retaliated for the abuses committed against Buddhists. In return, Minh beat Catholics and had them dragged on buses. It was a short time after this before the United States entered the war. Many in our country considered it an aimless conflict. However, it was one of religious ideology.
The Central Intelligence Agency(CIA) had opted to go to war. This federal agency of the United States Government was founded by William Donovan. He was a member of the Knights of Malta. The organization served as a catholic military order during the middle ages. It is still active to today. The group is obviously modernized. There are those in the CIA who are classed with this secret society. It is the reason why our government that once supported the North Vietnamese regime, eventually abandoned it in support of the southern region. At the start of the war there were unusual events taking place. Catholic priests were creating their own armies. They carried out forced conversions on Buddhist monks through violent acts. The moment our country had become involved in battle, evidence of Catholic ties could not be more apparent. What is a noteworthy fact is that the Vietnam War was also called Spelly's War. Cardinal Spellman, the 43rd Archbishop of New York, held holy office. He went on numerous occasions to the war front to encourage the soldiers. The commander of the American forces was General Westmoreland. It is certain this individual claimed himself a Roman Catholic. Cardinal Spellman oversaw the war in conjunction with him.
I did not see Lynn and T'ang anymore. I still walked to their neighborhood however. Other friends stayed in that area. There was Maria, Carol, Marcos, and many more. The vicinity had a large part of Hispanics. I found myself in company with that group the most. It was here I attended my first Mexican party. A young woman decided to give her daughter a birthday celebration. Children who lived near came to this special occasion. The party was held above from where Lynn and T'ang resided. They did not come as only I knew the reason why. I recall there were lots of food, music, and games. Kids constantly ran in and out the apartment of the one providing the entertainment. Many remained outside in the driveway. At the height of the party, a donkey was suspended in the air. I believe it had been made of papier-mache. It was known as a pinata. Hidden inside this object there were candies, fruits, and gifts.
The purpose of this donkey served as another form of amusement and fun. It was designed to be broken that children might collect all within. It started when the birthday girl was blind folded. Her mother placed a stick in her hand. When she was ready, the child swung, hitting the pinata. It spend around and back and forth. She made contact a second time. The donkey was not breached. Finally, the girl gave up. She passed the stick to someone else who wanted to particpate. Girls and boys had taken turns striking the donkey. There was not much time before the pinata split.The treats inside had come to be extracated. As the day waned, the crowds of children began to lessen. They slowly disappeared into their places. The sun blazed brightly in its sphere. It appeared like a circular mirage. This orb of light seemed to peer through an elusive blue sky. In the distance it hung upon the vast nothingnes"staring as though it were across the heavens"its intensity like the penetrating gaze of a jealous God. Finally, gliding down a silver horizon, the great ball of fire slipped into an ocean of twilight.
The last remaining children withdrew inside. Night had fully settled in. All was compeltely silent. I had come to this neighborhood many of days. I watched more than a thousand sunsets from this area. It wasn't until pitch dark when I walked back to The Coldwater Canyon Building. I made my way through the alleyway. Looking back in hidsight this was dangerous. I could have been harmed as a child. There were many unstabled individuals in the vicinity. If by some forbidden chance I had come in contact with such a person, I might not be living today. I guess my immaturity would not let me see the seriouness of my actions. I think it was at this point in my life I began to rebel. My mother never liked when I came in passed 6:00p.m. She feared for my safety. I always managed to go to the neighborhood I frequented. It was usually following school. My mother could not find me, so I thought. I did not worry about the consequences until later. It was the naïvety of a child. I felt something missing in my life. I could not then express what it was that bothered me. I seemd to yearn for happiness. Already, I sensed some strain of rejection. I enjoyed my childhood to a certain degree. However, I had an insatiable desire to be accepted. My emotions were not defined, yet they harrassed me. I would discover the reason for the conflict within. I was becoming a product of my own thoughts. I did not know any of this at the time. Through the years it would all unfold.