A dark green toy plastic soldier positioned over a white plastic toy boot

Photo by Max Böhme

The road from San Francisco through Vallejo was littered with odd remnants of decades gone by. Old factories and warehouses. The ghost of Rosie the Riveter floating on disappearing docks. It was once an area known for building war machines but those submarines had long since sunk into history.

I feel like a soldier at the end of the war but I can’t go home. I don’t know where home is anymore, he thought. Is there a home left for pretend soldiers like me at the end of a war that never happened?

Jarette drove quietly down Highway 37, thinking of his father and grandfathers. They had all fought in real wars.

In Vietnam, his dad had bribed his way onto a helicopter to fly out into the jungle just for the experience of being a gunner. In combat, gunners survived less than a minute. He thought of Dad with his army buddies, barricading themselves in a bunker to get high and listen to Jimi Hendrix because they couldn’t go to Woodstock. Shooting up, taking acid, and smoking weed to the burning guitar licks and amp-driven feedback of a rock star soon to be dead.

His thoughts traveled further back in time to Grandpa C and World War Two. Hiking deep into the French mountains with his patrol. Their mission was to let hiding German soldiers know the war was over. Deeply scared and on edge every step of the way, knowing he could be shot by a sniper at any moment because the war had not ended for those young Axis troops.

Then his imagination shifted to Grandpa L, laying on his back on a battleship next to his buddy, a big band trumpeteer. Blowing the melody from Glen Miller’s Moonlight Serenade as they watched the clouds pass by overhead. Later, stumbling drunk through port cities — Los Angeles, Seattle, and San Francisco — afterward writing letters to Grandma to apologize for his on-leave antics before heading out into the Pacific to kill Japanese soldiers.

Did the war end for any of them? Did our fathers and our fathers’ fathers ever really return home?

Who am I, the child of soldiers? Who are the children of the boys who returned home? Are we the shadows of warriors?

Were we just living out dark wartime fantasies ourselves? Without a war to fight, did we create our own battles? Did we dig our own trenches and build our own bunkers in the cities and towns we live in? Who were we fighting now?

A green plastic toy army solider pointing a gun at a yellow plastic army soldier

Photo by Sahand Babali

The blue-collar town passed as he drove onward through sparse traffic. On the other side of the highway moving slowly in the opposite direction, the cars were backed up for miles. Each person sitting alone in their car, listening to Sirius radio, podcasts, and NPR commuting to Oakland and San Francisco from Sacramento.

Jarette drove in perfect silence. Like a bomb had gone off seconds before. The shrapnel had lept through the air and claimed its target. Limbs lost. Lives expelled. But he was safe in the peace and quiet, driving steadily to nowhere in particular. Just away from the war that was his life in the Bay Area.

Vacaville was ahead. Cowtown. He had seen, performed, and slept in many of these cowtowns as a touring musician.

Maybe that’s my war? Music. Tours of duty. And I get to be a civilian now.

It made sense. When the band had entered a town, it was like a platoon had rolled into a village in Europe in 1944 or Vietnam in 1969. Pillaging and looting the villagers. Taking their sex, beds, booze, drugs, food, and money. Then, lighting it all on fire behind them as they left.

Later, when he toured solo, he was like a sniper, intimately aiming his melodies and lyrics at each member of the audience in tiny venues. Leveling his voice at them like a weapon, across the stage to their teeny round tables. Peering through the scope of his instrument as he played. Finding each listener and fan. BLAM! Got you.

Over time, he began to miss. He had started to lose his edge. The songwriting sniper had become a nursery rhyme private. Not even a limerick lieutenant. Trigger fingers trembling on stage over his instrument.

I’m a broken toy soldier. My little green body was left on a stovetop and I melted.

He thought of himself as a tiny, plastic army man once loved and played with by a boy. Originally kept in a plastic sack with his squadron of other green army men, each with their own solid base to stand on. But then, he had gotten the taste of freedom. The boy had started to play with only him. Taking him on adventures. A soloist.

That was the end of the band and then the end of my career, he thought. But now, I’m a civilian. The war is over.

He hoped the bombs had stopped falling and the bullets would no longer fly. Jarette didn’t want to fly a white flag anymore. He was a plastic soldier who wanted to return home but first needed to find out if home existed and where it might be.

If you missed it, read part 1 of Tedium — Waiting for the Cat in the Hat to Show Up.