By Dane Zeller
Twenty bucks? Don’t know if I got twenty bucks worth to say. You a reporter?
I thought so. And you wanna know why I live under this bridge and carry signs askin’ people for money. No shit, how’d I know that.
Here’s your story. One day about twenty years ago, I drank a case of Bud, and then my wife kicked me out of our house. And, here I am. They call me a homeless person now. There you go.
Oh yeah? Well, just fill in the blanks. You make up a lot of stuff anyway when you write, doncha? Just put in there something about how my clothes look. Tell’em they’re a little ratty, but you also have to say my overcoat is from Brooks Brothers. It’s class, you know. That enough?
Now don’t put that PTS pussy stuff in there. That’s a load of shit. We went, we killed a couple of gooks, then we came home. If you can’t cope with those little things, you oughta buy a dress and find some lipstick.
My dad was in the army. He was in France in the war. Landed on one of those beaches. Back when I had a TV I watched a movie about my dad and his friends landing on Omaha beach. He was shot three times. He didn’t have a choice. Die on the boat or on the beach. He thought he’d be luckier on the beach. He was.
He came home and raised us four kids. If he was bothered by it, he didn’t tell anyone. I asked him one day about it. He said it wasn’t nothing. I took him for his word. Nowadays, you been in the Army and you get a little stressed out, they say you got that post-traumatic shit syndrone. Chances are, if you’ve got PTS, you probably been drivin’ a desk in the war. I’d bet on it.
Gotta go get supper now down at the mission. They open pretty early.
I already told you about Viet Nam. Ain’t no big deal. Nah, don’t meet up with my unit. They don’t hang out here under the bridge. Up in Chicago last year a guy walks up to me and I see a red tattoo on his arm. It’s in the shape of the number one. I shake his hand because I was in the Big Red One. His tattoo was exactly the one I have on my right arm. After that, we shared a little coffee. Sometimes even a little wine if traffic had been good to us. Most of the time we sat around the campfire, if we had one, but we didn’t talk much. I asked him one day where he’d been. He said “Ong Thanh. You?” I said “Hue.” A coupla days later he picked up his bags and left. Didn’t say good-bye. Didn’t need to.
Ong Thanh? That’s not where he was stationed. He was probably at Bien Hoa, where the Big Red One was living in II corps. Ong Thanh, that’d be where he grew up. That’s where he gathered up the ghosts and packed them into his skull. Those ghosts told him not to tell anyone about the place. But, if you were in Big Red, you knew about the little piss river west of Saigon on the road to Cambodia. And you understood why he quoted my dad, “wasn’t nuthin’.”
“Hue.” Nice place to be for the holidays. Lots of Buddhists, and it looked like a bunch of zips were home for the holidays. Like shootin’ fish in a barrel. Me and my partner, Jesse, we was having a great old time. One day we opened this door to an outbuilding and there was this big cobweb across the door. We knew the building was empty, so we had time to check out this beautiful web that stretched across the entryway and contemplate it’s beauty. Jesse said “let’s go” and he lifted his M-16 to swat away the web. That’s when I saw one strand of the web was a little bit heavier than the rest. It was a trip wire, and Jesse got blasted. I only knew him for about three months.
There you go. That’s more than I’ve talked in three years. I’ll take that twenty, now.
How’d I feel about Jesse? Are you shittin’ me? You’ve got the balls to ask me that? I’ll tell you how I felt. I just lost my partner. He disappeared in front of me. I got hit in the head by a piece of his skull. Is that what you want to know? I got blood on my cheek here I still can’t rub off forty years later. Tell that to your readers. Tell them it wasn’t the booze or my bitchin’ wife. I’m here because they got no showers here. I can’t wash my hair five times a day, sometimes ten, like I did at Hue. Shower? I couldn’t stop if I was ordered to. Because Jesse didn’t put away all his teeth and piss and blood before he got blown away.
Keep your fucking twenty. I’m outta here.