Read An Excerpt From In The Weeds

Read An Excerpt From In The Weeds

In the Weeds by Mark Ozeroff is a humorous 1970s tale of gas, grass, ass, and Vietnam. Here is an exclusive excerpt from the novel:

My parents were Russian émigrés displaced during World War II when Hitler attacked Stalin despite their treaty swearing that no such thing would ever occur. They’d fled east, barely escaping Operation Barbarosa, the pits of Babi Yar, the siege of Stalingrad, and the fate of most of the Jews of Eastern Europe.

When they came to the easternmost reaches of Siberia they jumped the puddle, continuing onward when they landed in US territory. I suppose they’d simply gotten in the habit of moving toward the rising sun. Finally there came a time when Sacha and Minka Kisov could go no further without getting wet.

They settled in the town of Farth, Florida, probably because it was not only as far from Russia as they could get, but because it was as unlike Russia as any place they’d ever been. It was hot, and Sacha and Minka had had their fill of the cold. It was tropical and lush, unlike their home village of Pochep. And, since Farth had no indigenous Jewish population, both felt that the organized anti-Semitism they’d fled would be unlikely to disturb their new existence.

So they set up housekeeping and bore a son, Menachem Jakov Kisov—me. I was a rambunctious baby, spidery and homely, but my parents loved me very much. Like Spanish moss, I grew rapidly in the fecund surroundings, secure in the all-American small town environment.

My first clear memory is of a crop-duster in a biplane, spraying a field of Florida corn. He was good; I distinctly remember that he flew under some telephone wires at one end of the cornfield on several passes. The sight fascinated me, and I begged my mother to let me watch until the pilot emptied his bin of insecticide and flew away. I watched him grow small in the distance and disappear, knowing all the while that I would fly when I grew to manhood. I was four years old.

When I learned to read, I devoured every book I could find on the subject of aviation. My favorite then and now was a book titled Old Soggy Number One by Slats Rodgers. Slats had done pretty much everything you could do with a small airplane: exhibition flying, flight instruction, crop-dusting. But far and away his most interesting exploits involved smuggling liquor from Mexico into Texas during Prohibition. The freedom, the sheer exuberance of his flying experience, was intoxicating to me. I, too, would fly liquor over the border when I was old enough, I told my father one night.

Pop chuckled, and in his heavy accent said, “Menachem, you can’t do dat in today’s world. First off, smuggling is against the law. No good!” He wagged his finger at me. “Secondly, liquor is legal now. Anyone can go to the store and buy as much as dey wish! You got to pick anudder job you wanna do when you get older…Slats.” He poked me in the stomach with his finger.

I was I was heartbroken. I knew there would never be anything I wanted to do as badly as live a life of harmless banditry from the cockpit of an airplane. But one thing came of our conversation: from now on, I would be called Slats. That was good, since none of the crackers that lived in Farth could come near the correct pronunciation of Menachem, despite a lifetime of tobacco chewing and the spitting thus required.

I grew up, never losing interest in flying or in Slats Rodgers. I graduated from William Henry Harrison High School in 1967, a turbulent time whose issues were just beginning to penetrate as far as Farth. I was faced with the question of what to do.

My parents wanted me to attend college. Although I was not totally committed to the idea, I enrolled as a Liberal Arts major at the University of Florida. This satisfied my parents and also gave me a student deferment, allowing me to avoid the draft for the time being. But I wasn’t completely happy in college. I lasted two years, growing more and more displeased with the increasingly anti-war sentiment of my fellow students.

It wasn’t that I was particularly militaristic, but I’d grown up listening to my folks talk about how bad life under the Communists had been. And according to them, Communism was difficult to differentiate from Fascism when it came right down to it. I thought it must be a little like Magellan’s voyage around the world—he sailed so far to the left that he ended up on the right.

With the Vietnam War now in full swing, the date of my birth guaranteed my being drafted. So I asked myself the same question I asked every time I was in doubt: What would Slats Rodgers do?

Well, Slats had faced a similar situation. When World War I broke out in 1914, the naturally pugnacious Slats had applied to the Aviation Section, US Signal Corps. But the Army had turned him down, and a disappointed Rodgers returned to Texas.

Today’s military was not about to make the same mistake with me. I went to the Air Force Recruiting Office in Vero Beach, presented myself to the sergeant there, and announced that I was available at their convenience.

“Sign me up, Sarge,” I said with a grin. “I wanna fly airplanes.”

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IN THE WEEDS by Mark Ozeroff