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Vincent Czyz is the author of The Christos Mosaic, a novel, and Adrift in a Vanishing City, a collection of short fiction that received the 2016 Eric Hoffer Best in Small Press Award. He is the recipient of two fellowships from the NJ Council on the Arts and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction (the honorable Allan Gurganus judging). The 2011 Truman Capote Fellow at Rutgers University, his stories and essays have appeared in New England Review, Shenandoah, AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, Tin House (online), Boston Review, Quiddity, The Tampa Review, Georgetown Review, Louisiana Literature, december, and Skidrow Penthouse, among other publications. He spent a total of nearly a decade in Istanbul, Turkey before settling in Jersey City. His work often deals with myth, dreams, and primal ways of perceiving the world.

The Cold War and its Fallout

Photo courtesy the author, Collage by Katie Kosma

Vincent Czyz | Longreads | June 2018 | 21 minutes (5,418 words)

 

I was born into Cold War America, 1963: Brezhnev, the Kremlin, the KGB, ICBMs, the Warsaw Pact. My father was a hard-line Republican, a Rough Rider looking for his Roosevelt. Reentry vehicles, NATO, first-strike capability, limited strike, and hardened silos were all part of my vocabulary by the time I was 12. He dismissed with contempt liberals who wanted to cut the defense budget and showed me bar graphs comparing U.S. and Soviet military hardware. The red bars representing Soviet numbers always towered alarmingly over the blue ones, except when it came to helicopters; the United States had a lot of those.

The stalemate between the superpowers has been over for a long time, but every now and then I still catch some of the fallout. While making a furniture run, for example, with a friend — Danny had mothballed a bedroom set at his mother’s house and needed a hand getting it into his truck. We went to the front porch in jeans, construction boots, jackets. It was a chilly March afternoon. He rang the bell.

Danny’s mother, a small Korean woman, opened the door. She gasped when she saw me, then covered her mouth. I almost stepped back, wondering what I’d done wrong.

Mrs. Lo Cascio lowered her hands. “You look just like your father!”

From his early 20s on, my father had had a mustache, and this was the first time Mrs. Lo Cascio had seen me with a beard. Her reaction was a rerun of an incident at my father’s wake in June 1983, a couple of weeks before I turned 20. Uncle Eddy, an adopted member of the family, put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed. “You’re the ghost of your father when he was 17.” As often happens at funerals, his face performed a high-wire act between smiling and crying.

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