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Excerpt: 'Lunch Bucket Paradise' Set In Post WWII San Leandro

Growing up in a fictionalized Washington Manor during an era of blue-collar prosperity. Author Fred Setterberg introduces the novel's young protagonist in this first in a series of excerpts.

 (Editor's note: "Lunch Bucket Paradise," by East Bay writer Fred Setterberg, is a fictionalized account of his youth in San Leandro's Washington Manor -- Jefferson Manor in the novel. Here is how Setterberg introduces this first excerpt: "The suburbs grew in the wake of World War II – built and settled by the young men who dragged themselves home from Normandy, Okinawa, El Alamein, Monte Cassino.  They purchased their homes with FHA financing, went to school on the G.I. Bill, and quietly lived with their memories of the worst that history could throw at them." For more information contact publisher, Heyday Books, in Berkeley.)

Excerpt One

Folks in our town talked about the War only as it faded from recollection.  Aiming to piece together what had actually happened, we spent Saturday nights at the Alameda Drive‑In, absorbing the lessons of Mister Roberts and Teahouse of the August Moon.

When it finally arrived in the suburbs, my father praised the Rodgers and Hammerstein version of history:  South Pacific featuring Mitzi Gaynor in Pan‑O‑Vision.  Dad spoke pointedly of Rossano Brazzi's rich tenor voice as though it somehow modified the atrocities at Tarawa and cut short the bloodshed in Guam.

My uncle Win, a Navy veteran of both Pearl Harbor and the Solomon Islands, complained always about Hollywood's omissions.

In the movies, Win pointed out, nobody ever got sick. But in the South Pacific – not the musical, but the actual theatre of operations – Win had contracted malaria, dengue fever, and whenever possible, the clap.

In the movies, bullets passed through shoulders, hands, or the fleshy part of a thigh. Win assured me that hot flying metal was just as likely to tear the meat off the arm or shatter the bones or lodge in the intestines or snap the spine or strip the skin from the face and leave the skull glaring back, naked and white. 

"Body parts," Win explained in a hoarse and confidential whisper as we stood in line at the snack bar, waiting out the twenty-five‑minute intermission between Hell Is For Heroes and The Wackiest Ship in the Army.  "Body parts is what they always leave out."

Win’s half-dollar skidded across the glass counter and landed on the Ben Franklin side. We scraped up two sacks of popcorn, each stamped in red and black newsprint with the terrifying faces of cartoon clowns

"Pieces of men," hissed my uncle, purchasing a twelve‑ounce paper cup of Pabst Blue Ribbon drawn from a cold keg underneath the counter. He slowly lifted the cup to his mouth, denying himself its pleasure by quarter-inches, and then he splashed down a mouthful. Pabst Blue Ribbon smelled to me like the night’s stale cigarettes and Wednesday morning’s fresh white bread straight off the Langendorf truck.

"They're scattered here and there,” said Win. “My sweet Jesus Christ, you wanted to puke – did you ever, Little Slick.”  He stroked my head with the same firm, soothing touch he usually reserved for Joe Louis, his dachshund.  “Bodies piled up like firewood.  Everybody's afraid, that's the plain God’s truth.  Everybody's afraid, all the time."

After the war, my uncle read more deeply into the events that his own participation had originally obscured. He picked up William Shirer's Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, but lost interest around the Battle of the Bulge. He nearly finished The Naked and the Dead, though it dragged on far too long, like the war itself. Eisenhower's opus, Crusade in Europe, presented a more basic problem.  For Win, the war had not been a crusade. He likened the war to a highway pileup, a vast wreck of jagged metal and human guts, a cataclysm.

"During the war," Win once wistfully explained after I had reached the age of nine or ten and needed to know, "things were fucked up bad, boy.  They were truly fucked up beyond belief." 

Guys shot their buddies by mistake; he had seen it happen. 

Ships downed their own planes. 

Planes bombed their troops. 

Besides the blunders, there were the dumb rumors. Soldiers feared they'd be docked a quarter of their pay if they lost any equipment in battle. Sailors believed Tokyo Rose was really Amelia Earhart and the Watts towers in Los Angeles were actually Japanese broadcast stations.

Even the officers whispered about allied agents dropped behind the German lines dressed as nuns, about Boston priests with thick Irish brogues working as clandestine Gestapo cell commandos with orders from Himmler to assassinate Harry Hopkins. Berlin was smoldering and Germany was in revolt. Hitler was infected with rabies, insane, foaming at the mouth; he was being treated by a veterinarian. Eva Braun, a secret agent of Eleanor Roosevelt's (and the former lover of Admiral Bull Halsey), had cut the Fuhrer's throat in bed. 

The war would be over in a month, a week, by Saturday. 

The war in Europe had been over for six months already, but the army brass wanted to keep marching until they reached Moscow. 

When the news finally came about Japan, the tremendous news that the Americans had dropped a big bomb, a really big beautiful bomb, and the war truly was over, nobody could believe that one at first either. Thank you, God, prayed my Uncle Win, crying at his ship bunk, thank you, thank you, thank you, even though I don't believe in you. Thank you for ending this war because it has been truly more fucked up than anybody will ever know.

 I listened to every word my uncle told me, and wondered if I would ever be ready to take my place in the world.

(Next Wednesday Excerpt Two: Suburbs Spreading.)

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Fran January 04, 2012 at 02:08 PM
Hey, I thought Patch wouldn't print the F word? lol
David January 04, 2012 at 02:41 PM
All my family members who were in any war (WWII on) never dwelt on it, had any PTSD or any post-war issues, or even detailed commentary. Talk to my great-uncle about fighting in Italy, one of the bloodiest fronts in WWII, and you'd get the idea all he did was admire the old Roman bridges (he was a welder who worked on the Bay Bridge) and the "senioritas." My grandfather (who was in Pearl Harbor, on the USS California as it was sinking), pretty much only talked about the amusing interludes while being on the Fletcher after the California was sunk. Other great-uncles were in D-Day, North Africa and the Atlantic Navy, never got such a detailed commentary. Interesting how other men dealt with it.
Tom Abate (Editor) January 04, 2012 at 03:52 PM
This is a fictional account which goes to both your points, David and Fran. The book title has been what intrigued me from the start. The thrust of the book is about the post-War prosperity, especially for blue collar workers, which is so, so different than today.
Fran January 04, 2012 at 04:09 PM
I was kidding, but was waiting for you to reply and mention "artistic integrity" lol. I am quite enamored of that era myself. I collect old time/life magazines, and actually read them. haha
Tom Abate (Editor) January 04, 2012 at 04:29 PM
Well, there is that, too :)
Marga Lacabe January 04, 2012 at 04:41 PM
David, not every person who fights in a war (or endures it) gets PTSD, we are wired differently and some people are more resilient than others. But also, just because someone doesn't talk about an event or only refers to the "amusing interludes", it doesn't mean that they are not affected by it. Concentrating on the "funny" and the trivial is one way of dealing with it. But there are multiple ways, and most people I know that have serious cases of PTSD (and believe me, I know a lot) don't show it on the surface.
David January 04, 2012 at 05:26 PM
It's also interesting how you choose to read into my comments.
Marga Lacabe January 04, 2012 at 06:01 PM
David, I read your comment not "into" your comment. You said above that none of your family members who were in the war had PTSD. And, as I said, that may indeed be true but it also may be that they had it and you were not aware of it. My general point is not about your family, but about PTSD itself.
Mike January 04, 2012 at 06:42 PM
Another interesting book by a San Leandro author is East Bay Grease by Eric Williamson, a graduate of Pacific High, Tells about growing up in San Leandro. http://www.amazon.com/East-Grease-Eric-Miles-Williamson/dp/0312204043

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