New York City: Days 3 and 4

Saturday morning was another delicious breakfast made by Emma– sweet quinoa with pecans and dried apricots. Yum! Emma had to work again and Gwen had gone back to New Haven on Friday (to return on Saturday afternoon), so I headed uptown to visit my dad where he was staying with some good friends at 207th & Broadway. We spent some time hanging out around there and walked over to a little farmers’ market. It really was starting to look like fall in NY and I think it helped that everywhere I turned there were more pumpkins:

One of the vendors had vegan cookies, so I got a huge carrot raisin cookie that was quite satisfying–pretty healthy tasting, kind of bread-like and gigantic!

Dick Hughes, the friend my dad was staying with, is one of seven siblings from Pittsburgh who have been family friends for decades (my mom met them in her college days). Dick has been involved in political action in and about Vietnam since the 1960s. In 1968, Dick received a call for the draft to go to Vietnam with U.S. military forces. He fundamentally opposed the war and, refusing the draft, became a conscientious objector. He did in fact head to Vietnam then, not as a soldier, but as a freelance journalist, determined to find out what was really going on and report back. When he arrived in Saigon in 1968, he was moved by the many children living on the streets. He and a friend brought some of them into the apartment they were renting, providing food, shelter, and support. This casual arrangement, born out of necessity and compassion, evolved into the Shoeshine Boys Project (named as such because the children subsisted mainly on shining shoes). An internationally recognized movement with 8 shelters for homeless children in Vietnam, this project has helped at least 2500 kids. Dick was in Vietnam for 8 years (1968-1976) helping to organize education, shelter, and support for Vietnamese children who needed it. This was the beginning of Dick’s involvement with political action relating to Vietnam and a life-long commitment to improving the lives of Vietnamese affected by the war. You can listen to a video of Dick telling his story here.

Articles about Dick’s involvement:

“AT LUNCH WITH: Richard Hughes; An Actor Prepares; Vietnam Interrupts” (NYTimes)

“A Family Once More” (Pittsburgh Post Gazette)

When I arrived on Saturday, Dick was in the heat of organizing an event to promote the new re-release of two books on the effects of Agent Orange by Fred Wilcox.

One book, called Scorched Earth: Legacies of Chemical Warfare in Vietnam, is about the lasting and devastating impacts of Agent Orange use during the Vietnam War on generations of Vietnamese. The other book, called Waiting for an Army to Die: The Tragedy of Agent Orange, is about the impact of Agent Orange use on American soldiers in Vietnam during the war. For those not familiar with the history of Agent Orange use in warfare in Vietnam, Agent Orange is a dioxin chemical herbicide and defoliant manufactured by Monsanto and Dow during the Vietnam War for the U.S. Department of Defense. In Vietnam, American troops sprayed millions of acres of land with this chemical, aiming to destroy forest cover as well as the ability of the Vietnamese to grow their own food for survival. The use of Agent Orange has affected at least 3 million people, causing directly the death and maiming of close to half a million Vietnamese and at least half a million severe birth defects in future generations of children who are currently sick and dying from Agent Orange exposure.

Noam Chomsky wrote the introduction to Scorched Earth and he was coming in on Monday to attend the event. The event was promotional for the books, but also educational about the horrific effects of Agent Orange. I wasn’t there for the event (I’d already returned to Seattle), but I heard it was a great success–very well attended and all went smoothly. On Saturday, we headed out to the upper west side to hand out flyers informing New Yorkers of the upcoming event and also getting the word out that the effects of Agent Orange were still very much a pressing issue. It was so nice to be with the Hughes clan and to spend some time with my dad; they’re all such amazingly good people and it is so heartening to be around them.

I didn’t end up making it to Occupy Wall Street because after the leafletting I was scheduled to meet up again with Gwen and Emma. We were meeting another friend, Leah, for dinner at Blossom. I had been to Blossom before on another trip to NY and really liked it. And they happen to have Gwen’s all-time favorite piece of carrot cake. I ordered a kale salad with a lemon dressing and pecans on top and a bowl of spicy lentil soup. It hit the spot as I had been feeling slightly greens-deprived. For dessert we ordered a couple of pieces of carrot cake to share, which was quite delicious. The pictures did not turn out well, so you’ll just have to use your wild imaginations to picture this meal. After dinner, we headed back to Brooklyn and snuggled up with a glass of wine, some tea and chatted until we were ready for bed.

On Sunday, Emma and I said our goodbyes first thing because she had to head off to work. Gwen and I decided to head up to 207th again to visit with my dad for a couple of hours. Even though it was a short amount of time, I was glad we went up to see him again and got to spend a bit more time with the Hughes family. After visiting, we headed back down to Brooklyn and stopped at Bliss Cafe again for brunch before I had to head to the airport. I resisted the urge to get another bowl of chili and cornbread, and tried instead the vegan breakfast burrito, which was served with vegan sour cream, chili, and salsa. It was tasty (though not quite so much as the chili/cornbread combo) and very filling for my trip home:

All in all, a lovely trip to NY with wonderful people and wonderful food. But I have to admit, it’s good to be back home!

Join the Conversation


  1. Wow…amazing work your friend does. On the day before R’s father died, we Skyped with him so he and Max could have their first and last meeting. When he died, we explained to him why. He tells people, “my grandpa died because of the nasty chemicals dropped on him when he was rebuilding villages in Vietnam hurt his brain”. And a lovely way to finish off your fabulous trip!

  2. I enjoyed reading this article very much, and more so when reading about the meeting with Richard Hughes whose own story is one that I have also read about. Both deserve a wider audience as the work being carried out to help people affected by Agent Orange needs to grow and grow and the number of people affected is also growing day by day.

    From my yearly visits to Vietnam since 1989, I have met many shoeshine Boys & Girls working to earn a living for themselves and families. On each of my visits I have met many Vietnamese affected by Agent Orange, and they have to be seen for people to understand the issue. There are many organisations involved in the campaign seeking justice for the victims be they Veterans of a number of countries that served in the Vietnam war and the Vietnamese, on which it has to be remembered 80 million litres of Agent Orange was sprayed, and fifty-years later Vietnam has four million suffering from the effects. It has now gone into the fourth generation.

    What a legacy left to a people and a country whose only crime! was to fight for their freedom and independence. I urge readers of this article and the books mentioned to press the US Government and the US Chemical companies headed by Monsanto to accept responsibility and to make compensation.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and posting. It is so important to remember and take action for those affected by Agent Orange, particularly as it is a problem whose seriousness continues and escalates each day. Thank you for the work you do!

  3. Readers will also find information and extensive video material on Agent Orange following the article below. Please scroll down the 230+ comments following the article containing video links some of which are so heart heartbreaking they will bring tears to your eyes. And thank you for ‘Serenity in the Storm’ for helping to bring the horror story of Agent Orange and Monsanto to the attention of all who fight for Justice. Peace be with you! Justice for the Victims of Agent Orange!

  4. Thank you to both Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Aldis for your comments and to ‘Serenity in the Storm’ for publishing this information. I would like to suggest readers have a look at ‘Project Agent Orange’ a website dedicated to ‘poetry to empower Agent Orange victims’. Monsanto or Dow must be in either the title or body of each poem.

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