(soft bright music) - I'm a mushroom hunter.
So, I have to follow the hunt.
- [Narrator] In the Oregon woods, seasonal workers hunt for wild mushrooms.
Two of them, a Cambodian refugee and a Vietnam veteran form an unlikely friendship.
- He's a good kid, hard worker.
Hell, he's my friend.
- We both went to war and we had a story to share.
- [Narrator] The Last Season on America ReFramed.
(soft bright music fades) ♪ PEOPLE: Four, three, two, one!
♪ (cheering) (lights humming) (music playing) (crowd cheering) (singing karaoke) (music playing faintly) (fire crackling) Nope.
Just a little bit.
(sniffs) Ah, smell good.
I like the morning smell.
Huh, where is the... where is the partner?
Mushroom should have a companion.
And what's really nice?
Not a sound.
(vegetation crackling) Pretty good sized matsi, if it was whole.
Just run out of energy for a minute.
♪ ♪ WOMAN: Sign right there.
I'll have to issue your permit first and then you can pay.
I hope I have $100 to pay you.
You hope you have $100?
Yeah, I don't have that much.
KOUY: I'm a mushroom hunter.
I have to follow the hunt.
Matsutake season is a full two months away from my daughter.
She's my diamond.
I've been telling her, "Honey, please let Daddy work, okay, "and stay with my friend so I can provide you whatever you want."
I just hope that I can pick ten pounds a day.
That's my goal.
But I don't think many people can make that.
(twigs cracking underfoot) Not much going.
♪ Mushroom help me survive through hard time.
When I was a young boy in Cambodia, my country fall down into the Communist region and the Khmer Rouge took over.
My father was wounded by the Communists, and he pass away from the beginning of the war.
In order to survive Khmer Rouge, you have to be able to adapt.
We work as slave labor and we don't have enough food to eat.
Everybody got starved.
I eat everything.
I eat tadpole, I eat earthworm, I eat grubs.
I eat everything.
That's how I got to pick all kinds of mushrooms.
And even here, it help me earn my living.
(birds chirping) (dog barks) ROGER: I've been up here over 40 years off and on.
When we came home from the war, they basically dumped us out.
We couldn't get a job, so we made our own jobs.
We would get out there in the woods and just work.
I got a reputation for being an ornery, mean son of a (beep) is what I've got a reputation for being.
And that's from people that don't know me.
Actually, I'm a pretty easygoing guy.
I don't sleep with a gun under my pillow anymore.
Matsis, the only theory that I've got is they're like gold, where you find them.
Got $1,500 for one mushroom.
I made $87,000 that year.
If you all will excuse me a minute.
THERESA: What are you gonna do?
- I'm gonna kill that goddamn... THERESA: No, you're not.
(trigger clicks) THERESA: You didn't even come close to it, hon.
-Right under him.
He gets to live today.
I have a hard time with memories.
I've been seeing a therapist because I was having trouble with post-traumatic stress syndrome or whatever in the hell they call it.
Big deal, it hardly don't bother me, go away.
(loud scratching) I'll put some bands on it tonight.
Got out of Vietnam February '63.
Not by choice; by ambulance.
My buddies came home in boxes.
11 men in the squad, and I'm the last one.
Come back here to the States, and a lot of culture shock.
I go from being a bad (beep).
Now I gotta become a citizen.
People calling me names.
I'll tell you the truth: if I'd have had a shotgun the first week I was here, I'd have let the suckers see what it is like to be over there.
(fire crackling) Got shrapnel all over.
Once in a while, a piece of it will come out.
THERESA: It's gross, because I'm the one that has to dig it out.
And it's gross.
ROGER: No, it's not, it's just... THERESA: Yes, it is.
It's just factual.
I'm old and weak.
And, uh... - Mean!
- Yeah, I'm a meanie.
- You're mean.
- I admit it.
- Too mean to die.
(keyboard playing notes and drum sample) My music!
KOUY: The pickers go out to work all day, pick mushroom and come back, sell it to the buyers.
The buyers, they grade it, they separate it-- good, bad.
After that, ship it to Japan.
The company buy the mushroom according to the stock market.
Once the price go down, the pickers start to go home.
ANNOUNCER: Seven laps to go!
Right now, Jimmie has been running high... THERESA: Yeah.
Get out of his way, Burton!
Oh, son of a (beep)!
ROGER: Lighten up.
- I'm sorry.
(engine idling) Rodent!
Maybe the squirrel or something.
I just get cold.
I'm an old man that's cold.
- Oh, I know, it's okay.
It's not worth it to go up.
- Oh, well.
If there's a mushroom up there, you'll find it.
(coughing) KOUY: You okay?
ROGER: Kouy's a hell of a mushroom picker.
He's a good kid.
I can't keep up with him.
You know, you meet somebody on the street, or you meet somebody, next thing you know, you're friends.
With no forethought to it or without nothing else, you just...
He's my friend.
I told him, why didn't he come out here and stay?
And we had all this lumber, so he built this house.
KOUY: We seen each other for a long time in mushroom camp, but we never had anything to do with each other.
Then about six years ago, we start to chat about past.
He start to talk about how he fight in Vietnam, and I start to talk how I fought against Vietnam and Khmer Rouge.
All of a sudden, he say, "Well, you know, I'm sorry.
"I didn't know where you come from before.
"And now I know you from same side, you know, I want to be your friend."
This is how I sleep.
This is how I sleep in... during the war.
This is how I sleep during the war, like that.
And I told him that even though I sleep, I still have a lot of flashbacks, I still have a lot of nightmares, and I'm holding my gun all the time.
And he said, "Huh.
"You are the same as me, son.
I am sleeping like that, too."
ROGER: Dammit, we should be able to find matsis.
Come on, Tommy.
Well, go to hell, then.
I guess we spent about two hours out there looking around.
And that's a place where I've always picked mushrooms, up there on that flat, where you can see the truck all the time and don't get lost.
ROGER: Where you found 14 mushrooms.
I'm gonna go try again Saturday, I think.
THERESA: I guess.
You're old enough that you can do whatever the heck you want to do.
Because you're an adult.
- Except drink.
- You can drink.
You just won't be with me, because I could not put myself through it again.
KOUY: In 1992, my biological mother was diagnosed with cervical cancer.
And after the second session of radiation therapy, she start to having difficulty.
During that time, people told me that the matsutake is a medicinal mushroom, helps cure cancer.
I decide that I will come here and pick mushroom no matter what.
But I found out that matsutake is not a cure, it's not a remedy for cancer or for anything.
It's just a food that Japanese love so much.
When the doctor was saying that there will be no chance for your mom to recover, I told him that whatever needs to be done, I want to pay back, you know?
Take my inside, give it to her.
And they said, "No, we don't play God."
It's hard when you see somebody give you life and she pass away in front of your eyes.
ROGER: Years ago, Kouy and his ex-wife came in the house.
I knew it was something special right away.
They got down on the floor and then said, "We have something very important to ask.
Would it be all right if we took you as our parents?"
I said, "Well, if that's what you want, then so be it."
THERESA: To have someone ask you to accept them, it's just...
It's so deep.
It were just normal for me.
I don't get all... - He doesn't get all emotional.
- I'm the human robot when it comes to that.
- He used to get emotional when he was courting me.
KOUY: I was adopted by Roger when I was 41.
I never thought I got adopted when I'm adult.
So we become family, and I'm so happy, I'm so proud of having someone that I never knew before that I could call Mother and Father again.
ROGER: Oh, there's Kyle's!
THERESA: Hamlin won.
Hamlin's driving Kyle's truck today.
Thank you, dear.
(kisses) Uh-oh, I poisoned you.
The kiss of death.
(men laughing) ROGER: Well, there's just you.
Till you find a country girl.
(laughs) Always talking about that.
I mentioned to you one time already, there's this guy work at Pilot, say, "You don't want to go back to Cambodia "and marry another Cambodian girl.
"I don't think it's good for you.
You want a Caucasian girl, maybe will work out for you."
I said, "I don't know."
- Yes, that would be better.
It would be better, Kouy.
- Most of those Caucasian girls... - Then you don't have to worry about the blue card or nothing.
- Green card.
- Yeah, the green card or nothing, then it's... And you only marry for love.
You don't marry somebody just because.
- You only marry for love.
- Bah, humbug.
(Kouy laughs) ROGER: You're gonna have to start going back to church.
Best place to meet women.
- As you know, Dad, I don't go to church, I don't go to the temple.
I mentioned to you before, I believe in all God principle, but I may not believe in all of that.
I can't say I'm an atheist, but... - No, you're not, you're an agnostic.
You believe, but you don't believe it all.
THERESA: Just try and be a good person.
KOUY: Right, yes.
Follow the rules.
ROGER: Oh, to hell with the rules.
- Well, you can make up your own rules.
That's probably the best thing you've said.
You can make your own.
And I got an old saying.
"As long as I go through each day "without consciously causing harm "to another human being, I've made it through one more day."
ROGER: I remember things I don't want to, because I've been in the process of trying to put a bunch of it back into where it belongs, in that little lockbox in the back of my head.
Not up front, back in the back.
But everything's coming out of the front.
I was there when the hell was just getting started good: '58, '59, '60.
See, technically, we weren't allowed to be in Laos or Cambodia or Thailand.
We were only to be in Vietnam.
Yeah, well, that lasted about 30 seconds.
We moved out of Vietnam real early.
We were on the move, going up, making friends in the highlands.
We didn't know what we were getting into.
We were going over there as advisors.
(laughs) What a joke.
Truth is, we were snipers.
My job was to do one thing: take out targets.
They were targets, not people.
If you look at them as people, you can't do your job.
I was satisfied with the way I performed.
♪ It's blistering right there.
Last week, it was right here.
This is the old scar.
I'm getting tired because of the artificial leg that works, but not 100% working right.
What can I say?
It's just, uh, something out of my hand that I cannot do.
If it's something that I can fix it, I'll fix it on my own.
But, uh, it is something that you have to live with.
No other choice.
Late '78 or '79, we start to hear gun.
We heard that the Vietnamese took over Cambodia, so I joined the rebel, the Khmer freedom fighters.
We escaped with the Khmer Rouge, and I live in the very dark jungle.
I become a platoon leader in charge of 30 people.
36 people in my group.
And I have my own AK-47 and I have my own pistol.
I was very happy.
I said, "This is freedom."
I was wounded by a landmine made from China.
The primer made by U.S.
I just didn't realize what happened.
I look at my leg, it's gone.
It was pumping, squirting blood out like water hose.
I said to my guys, "Kill me and just let my parent know that I love them, I say goodbye."
But they wouldn't do that.
THERESA: Kouy's having a hard time right now.
Because Janette misses him.
He cried in my arms for a long time.
It was pretty intense.
When she grows up, she will.
She doesn't understand it now, but she will, and she will appreciate it.
But he's been really working really hard and not making any money at it.
- Yeah, he should've...
If it had been a season, he should have made $3,000, $4,000.
And I don't think he's made a thousand.
(TV static) How are you today?
Not too good, I can tell.
- Oh, I'm doing great.
- Yeah, right.
You want me to cool you off with my hand?
(coughing) You got your shoes on.
- No, my girlfriend came by and helped.
- Oh, okay.
- I said she better get out of here if she didn't want to get shot.
ROGER: All right, I'll see you in an hour or so.
THERESA: Have a good visit, dear.
He's not doing well.
His breathing is really, really labored.
It's really hard for him to breathe.
It's just gonna get worse and worse until he just... Like the doctor says, one day, he just won't be able to breathe.
And... then we can either call the ambulance and have him go to the hospital, or just let him stay at home and pass.
Only it's not going to be an easy passing; it's going to be a difficult one.
So, I'm just gonna have to... cowboy up.
The doctor asked me today what I thought happens after we die.
I said, "It's real simple."
"Well, you can call it anything you want-- the soul, whatever in the hell else," I said, "that little electric spark-- we just return to the cosmos and go on."
(coughing) I said, "Those little specks of light up there "that aren't big enough to be planets or asteroids or nothing, that's where everybody's at."
She said, "I like that idea."
I said, "Yeah, well..." This is the therapist I go to.
That's where I went to today.
I said, "Beats the heck out of hell and heaven and all of that nonsense."
And she said, "Yeah."
Usually, Dad go out and eat noodle over there, but this year, he couldn't go every evening.
I guess he is too tired to get up.
It's always in my mind that I want to cook him dinner before the season end.
I feel sorry, and I wish I can be here and help them throughout the winter, but I couldn't.
Just every year, it's like this, and it's... getting harder and harder.
Especially that right now, he ill.
Coming with the noodles.
- Oh, and I'm just getting some tea.
- Yes, and you got to have your fork and spoon.
Um, I have bay shrimp and... - No, no, no!
- Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't know.
But you can take the shrimp out.
Okay, so... - Thank you, my son.
- I'll take this.
- Okay, okay.
You don't want any, honey?
This is good.
This is really good.
- Thank you, Mom.
Too bad, Dad, you don't want any.
Think your belly's upset.
(singing in Lao) (chanting) (gong rings) ♪ (rain pelting down) WOMAN: Whoa.
(laughs) MAN: Smile.
- Because the rain.
A lot of hard work you did.
Almost 18 pounds.
Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, one.
Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, two.
Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, three.
Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, four.
Twenty, forty, sixty, eighty, five...
(grunts) (sighs) Okay... Ooh!
Giant number one.
♪ ♪ ♪ ROGER: I can tell you it's gonna be a nasty winter.
Them fawns shouldn't have turned yet.
They should not be gray.
They should still be tan and spotted.
It's gonna be wetter and colder than hell.
I guess the other night, I went to sleep early.
I guess I was cussin' somebody out or something.
And I wasn't doing it in English.
Theresa said she couldn't understand it.
It was probably Cambodian, maybe Thai, I don't know.
I really feel bad that I'm this way.
You want some chili pepper, Mom?
You want to squeeze...?
- Yeah, the lime?
I wish Dad can have a small bowl, just a little bit.
- I know, but he just is... About the only thing that I've seen him eat for the last four days is, um, ice cream.
That's the only thing he's eaten, is ice cream.
I want to ask you a really important question.
But I have to think.
Dad has flashbacks, as you know.
And once in a while, during the night, he'll have a flashback.
And I just kind of play along with him because it seems like if I try and tell him that it's not really happening, that it will more upset him, and so that's okay to do that because it calms him.
A flashback is just like a ghost coming into you.
Even though you don't believe in ghosts, you're still suspecting, "Oh, there's a ghost out there."
You understand what I'm saying?
It's the same thing.
So you have to explain to him to a point that he understands he's safe.
Nobody can hurt him no more.
I guess I know what to do then.
That really feels comforting, to know there's other people that I can call on.
I'm gonna miss you this winter.
♪ KOUY: I can feel that the season is near.
The season is almost over.
The weather here is too cold.
And see, all of these that I have right here are frozen.
You can only dry them.
Other than that you can't do anything.
I didn't expect that I supposed to pick this much, you know?
I thought I was gonna pick like, total, maybe eight, nine pounds at the most because that's what everybody picked, you know?
But today, I got probably about 30, 40 pounds maybe total.
I was lucky.
THERESA: If I was really sick and they had to run machines to keep me alive, I do not want that.
I do not want them to put those machines on me to make me live.
Because I wouldn't...
In my own mind, I would not be living.
It's hard for me to judge.
- We don't want to judge.
We don't want to be the judge and be the one to have to say yes or no.
KOUY: I feel like science has been playing around with people too much.
- Playing God.
- Yes, playing God.
And I'd rather push the button, rather than... ROGER: Having some personal experience with this, my first wife took 18 months to die.
They kept her alive.
They wouldn't let her go.
What they done is they went and got a court order prohibiting me from interfering with their treatment.
Which meant I couldn't do a damn thing except watch her.
And that cancer she had was really bad.
She begged me to pull the switch.
And I had then been told that I would get 20 to 25 years in jail if I pulled the switch.
So I just had to sit there and watch.
And it was the hardest thing I ever done in my life.
That's why I believe that if you're in a position to go, go.
♪ ROGER: The bad times I forget about.
The good times, I forget about them, too.
Long as I get up every day and pushing air instead of daisies.
Of course, when I go, I'm gonna go the whole route.
I'm gonna get burned up.
Just get cremated and call it good.
And they can joke I'll be smoking one day after I'm dead.
Woo-hoo, nice number one.
Where is the partner?
Dad knows his time is near, and it makes me sad.
It hurts my heart.
We both went to war, and we had similar problems, similar story to share.
Dad had a lot of flashbacks, and it's hard to let it go because something that you picture in your mind, it's there forever.
I hope before he pass away, he let go everything.
Right here is the partner.
♪ I want to say goodbye, Mom.
- I know.
KOUY: Thank you, I'm gonna miss you.
So you take care.
Don't worry, if anything happens just let me know, just give me a call.
- I will call you.
- I love you.
- I love you, too.
And I want to tell you something.
- Yes, Mom.
- I want to tell you that you just keep praying and you just keep thinking good thoughts, okay?
- Don't let your troubles get you down, because I worry about that sometimes, that you do.
And take, you know, just... And love Janette.
Thank you, Mom.
- Oh... And we'll talk.
- I'm worried about you.
- Thank you.
Love you too, Dad.
I'm gonna give you a big hug.
I love you, Dad.
- Love you too, my son.
- Take care, Dad.
- I will take whatever the couch will give me.
(laughs) But you take care and you be safe.
Sorry to see you go, but happy to see you go because you're going to do what you want to do.
- Thank you.
THERESA: I pray you make good money.
And keep good thoughts.
- Thank you.
- Okay, goodbye.
(Theresa sighs) Damn.
- I know, I know.
- I'll be glad when he can just live up here and don't have to go to California, you know?
- It would be nice.
- It would be damn nice.
- Yes, it would.
Well... Everybody comes in and everybody goes.
♪ ♪ ♪ ♪