CHARLIE DUC THO takes center stage to the sound of firecrackers going off.
“Incoming! But seriously … Thank you, thank you! This is a wonderful club, you’re fabulous people, and I’m lucky to be here. Frankly, I’m lucky to be anywhere. Waiter, could I have a drink? Thank you. Hey, I know. I need booze like Vietnam needs Jenny Craig. Am I right?
“Listen, folks, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. I make it a practice never to drink before midnight. Fortunately it happens to be midnight in Da Nang. You know, last week I got so loaded they made me use the freight elevator. Then there was the other night. I came home, stumbled into bed, and told my wife I loved her. She said, ‘Honey, are you kidding?’ I said, ‘No, I’m having a napalm flashback.’
“Folks, I’m kidding. My wife’s a beautiful person. Even though she can’t keep house. Junk all over the place. At my place, we don’t have spring cleaning, we have a spring offensive! Listen, my place is so dangerous you need a minesweeper to find dinner! And the bathroom—my shower is so greasy it looks like Haiphong Harbor after a tanker spill. Hey, that’s what happens when your wife is Hanoi Hannah. Hello? Am I talking to a rice painting or what? OK, time for a body count! Just kidding.
“Don’t get me wrong, I love your country. Reminds me of the old days in Saigon—the hustle and bustle, the hurly-burly, the nitty-gritty, the cheap smack! You know, the other day I thought I was back in Dien Bien Phu. The sun was setting, a soft breeze was blowing, I could smell the jasmine … and I felt a sudden urge to go out and booby-trap some foreigners. Folks, relax.
“You know, everything in Vietnam is different now. We used to have the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Now it’s the Ho Chi Minh Expressway. There’s a diamond lane for water buffalo that commute in pairs.
“And remember when everyone was a student at the People’s Re-Education Camp? Now there’s mandatory enrollment at Hamburger U. But I hear there’s a problem. Every time the teacher says, ‘Big Mac Attack,’ the whole class dives for cover.
“But business is really picking up in Vietnam. Calvin Klein is selling stone-washed pajamas, Regis Philbin has a 900 number and, guess what, there’s a Hanoi Hilton and it’s really a hotel!
“But hey, listen, you gotta hand it to a country that’s trying to rebuild itself after spending two decades without car fresheners! You know, Vietnam has some really heavy problems. I’m not kidding. I’m as serious as I’ve ever been in my entire life. I’m gonna say something I really want you to think about. You heard about a problem called Agent Orange. The good news is that my mother-in-law lived in a village that was completely wiped out by Agent Orange. The bad news is that she was the only person to fully recover!
“So you win some, and you lose some. Am I right? Hey, did Robert McNamara apologize or what? Speaking of winners and losers, I wanna talk to you about some incredible winners—my pals, the boat people. Remember the boat people, they were on the Today show? Well, they’re still here. In fact, I see that the president of the boat people chapter of my fan club is here tonight. He’s the guy doing all the heckling. But that’s OK. I know where his shrimp nets are and I’m gonna tell Bubba! You all know about Bubba, right? Bubba hates gooks. Tried to run them out of Galveston. Just kidding, Tran. That’s his name. Tran Van Sanh. His parents wanted something easy to remember. That’s a joke, Tran. Folks, my biddu Tran is an excitable type. Turns everything into a Pueblo incident. Remember that? Twenty-five years ago, those guys were traitors. Now they’re heroes. I tell you, this crazy globe of ours, it’s too much, really.
“And this country. Hey, how can you not give it a really big bear hug? I mean this is the place where former hookers from Saigon now earn big bucks at beauty salons where they inhale toxic fumes all day and apply acrylic nails. Is that amazing or what? People, I wanna leave you with one thought tonight: Life is a demilitarized zone, defoliation rhymes with radiation, and somewhere back in the old country the guy from The Deer Hunter is playing Russian roulette with the guy from Platoon. If you eat enough fish, can your body take its own temperature? Think about it.
“Thank you and good night.”