Barbie and Ken Experience the War

A Story from

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories

by Diana J. Dell

Barbie arrived at the Continental Palace a tad past six. Immediately, she spotted Ken, seated at a table on the outdoor verandah with a bottle of Ba me Ba (33), the local beer, in front of him.

"God, this tastes like formaldehyde," he complained, then stood up and pulled out a wicker chair. "Give me good ole American brew, any day."

Instantly, the waiter rushed over to take Barbie's order.

While waiting for Ken to sit back down, she glimpsed around the fashionable terrace, the let's-meet-for-drinks’ place since French Colonial days.

At the same table where Graham Greene drank while jotting notes for "The Quiet American," four reporters, recently back from what they considered the "real war" up north, were sipping gin and tonics. The dashing correspondents waved hello.

In another corner, partially hidden by a giant potted plant, two Eurasians sat like mannequins, beaming at their companions, a pair of middle-aged civilians old enough to be the girls' fathers. The cut of the men's Sears and Roebuck catalogue clothes and their deeply tanned, muscular bodies were a dead giveaway that they were construction workers for the American cartel RMK-BRJ.

Rumor had it that LBJ was profitably connected to the corporation through his Texan friends, Brown and Root, two of the six wealthy initials.

The highly paid manual laborers, similar to many of their peers in the war zone with nagging wives and bratty kids Stateside, lavishly spent most of their paychecks on the eager-to-please mistresses meekly sitting across from them.

Barbie glanced back at Ken and frowned.

"Yeah, I know," he responded, interpreting her silent outrage, "the Ugly Americans can buy anything."

The waiter stood by patiently, pencil and pad in hand.

"I will have a Coca Cola," Barbie, who handled protocol at the American Embassy, ordered the old man without looking up at him. She smoothed an imaginary wrinkle from her lap. "And please, do make sure the glass is clean."

A beggar on Tu Do Street thrust a hand toward Ken. He reached into the pant's pocket of his khakis and gave 20 piasters to the old woman in black pajamas leaning on a cane. The mamasan grinned, revealing brown teeth from years of chewing beetle nuts, and mumbled her gratitude, "Come un um," before hobbling down the street.

Ken examined the label on the beer bottle, searching for a clue to its contents, and asked, "How was your day?"

Barbie described her visits to the Cathedral and the zoo. "Afterwards, a group of us gals shopped and shopped. I swear, I've been in more stores today than in the entire five months since arriving in Vietnam."

Ken smiled. He enjoyed hearing her voice, no matter what she was discussing. Barbie adored his smile. Taking a slight breath, she rattled on about being measured at Cat Minh Tailors for an ao dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, and a correspondent's suit, the foreign journalist's combat zone attire. At the overpriced Than Ly gallery, she and her friend Madge bought ceramic elephants, lacquerware, and "those fabulous egg-shell paintings" that every American in Saigon was so mad about.

Balancing a silver tray above his right shoulder, the waiter returned with a chilled six-ounce bottle of Coca Cola and a twist of lime perched on an iceless glass.

Barbie reached into her leather shoulder bag for a Kool. Ken leaned forward with the gold Dunhill lighter he had bought for a song in Hong Kong a month earlier, while they were on R & R.

Still fumbling for a book of matches in his spotless white jacket, the waiter grunted his disappointment at not reacting quickly enough to accommodate the tall, blonde lady.

The beautiful couple laughed as the old man shuffled away in embarrassment, exactly as his grandfather had long ago when Somerset Maugham, holding court a few tables away and downing one aperitif after another, loudly called him "my favorite boy" after patting his ass.

Under the center ceiling fan that slowly stirred the tropical air, six Japanese businessmen were admiring Barbie's good looks.

Ken reached for her hand across the table, squeezed it lightly, and quietly said, "Let's go. I have to get back to the base. The old man's throwing a cocktail party for a group of visiting Congressmen. Duty calls."

Strolling back to her place, they bumped into a friend, a Red Cross executive, getting out of a cab in front of the apartment complex. The women chatted for a few minutes as Ken lingered at the door of the tiny yellow and blue vehicle and listened.

"I'll phone you tomorrow," he whispered in her ear after softly kissing her goodnight.

As he closed the car’s door, the Vietnamese driver charged into traffic. Suddenly, Ken's taxi became part of the chaotic motorized scene of rich Saigonese with well-maintained Peugeots and shining Citroens, surging ahead of their less connected countrymen on Honda and Lambretta motorscooters.

Ken stared through the taxi's back window until Barbie and her friend became white specks among the hundreds of yellow ones. Sitting up straight, he patted the ribbons ("fruit salad," the General called the decorations) adorning his starched captain's uniform and smiled. Ever since meeting Barbie, he seemed to do that a lot.

Closing his eyes for a moment, he thought of his classmates from West Point, strategically placed throughout Vietnam, also acquiring medals and promotions. Smiling broadly, he could not help wondering, though, if they were enjoying the war quite as much as he was.

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories

Barbie and Ken Experience the War

A Pedicab Driver Peddles Through History

A CIA Hired Wife Bares Her Soul

The Vietnamese Rock Star Interview on AFVN

Yolanda's Favorite Beggar

Saigon Rumors

General Westmoreland's Houseboy (and VC Spy) Talks

The Library Card

A Saigon Warrior's Journal

Vietnam War at Amazon

Vietnam War on DVD at Amazon

Vietnam War Kindle Books

The Literary Hootch, Part 1

The Literary Hootch, Part 2

The Literary Hootch, Part 3

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 1

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 2

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 3

Vietnam War Destinations, Part 4

Vietnam War History, Part 1

Vietnam War History, Part 2

Vietnam War History, Part 3

Vietnam War History, Part 4

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 1

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 2

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 3

Vietnam War Research Material, Part 4

The French in Vietnam

Vietnam War Battles, Campaigns, Offensives, Operations, Programs

Vietnam War Aircrafts

Vietnam War Documents, Speeches, Papers

Vietnam War Cities, Districts, Installations, Places, Provinces

Vietnam War Weapons and Equipment

Vietnam and U.S. Presidents

Vietnam War Humor

Vietnam Religions

The Media: Vietnam War

U.S. Allies in the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Antiwar

Political and Government Figures Involved in the Vietnam War

Trips to Vietnam

The Vietnamese: Vietnam War

Women and the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Films

Vietnam War Fiction Books

Vietnam War Books by Women Writers

Vietnam War Short Story Books

Vietnam War Screenplays

Military Leaders in the Vietnam War

Vietnam War Memorials

Vietnam War Battalions, Brigades, Corps, Divisions, Organizations, Units

Vietnam War Poetry

The Wall: Vietnam War

Vietnam War Quiz

Vietnam War Quotations

Vietnam War Books, Part 1

Vietnam War Books, Part 2

World War II Films (Part 1)

World War II Films (Part 2)

Memories Are Like Clouds

A Saigon Party:
And Other Vietnam War Short Stories