Sunday, November 09, 2014

BUS STORY # 418 (“You Tell A Good Story, Too”)

Photo by Busboy

I’m heading for where the 157 stops south of Lomas, and I can see there are two people already waiting on the bench. I can also see they look like they might be homeless.

As I get closer to the bench, one of them stands up and moves in front of the near end of the bench. I’m expecting a request for money, but I only hear one word of what he says: “bathroom.”

I cup my ear and say, “Sorry?” I’m close enough to see the street patina that confirms my first impression.

I have a hard time understanding what he is saying, but I make out something to the effect that there is no bathroom here.

I ask if he’s looking for a bathroom. I’m thinking there’s a Shell station on the far side of the intersection I could point out. And then I see the other person still on the bench, a woman, has her jeans pulled halfway down her thighs. She is covered by her coat.

He is standing between us to give her privacy.

I look back up at him. He has a dark, weathered face, unkempt long hair straggling out from a baseball cap. He is looking right at me, and I look right back.

He asks me something with “marines” in it. His speech is not slurred, but it is thick and stolid, with a heavy Native accent. He speaks again, enunciating very carefully. Am I in the Marines.

I say no.

He says he thought maybe I was.

I ask if he was.


How long ago?

’85 to ’89.

Where was he stationed?

Camp Pendleton.

And then where?

Fort Benning.

The whole time?

“I been all around the world. I saw the sun rise in Japan. It doesn’t mean anything.”

The woman is calling out something, but I can’t understand her, and he is ignoring her.

At this point, I am thinking about the approximately ten minutes it will be before my bus comes. I ask more questions and sort out as best I can the answers.

It is difficult. Part of that is his speech. I do not think he is inebriated. But I wonder if I am hearing the cumulative damage of alcohol or drugs, or if he has mental issues, or is maybe simply street-stunned. Or all of the above.

Part of it is his story. His sentences may be hard to understand, but they’re coherent. His story is not. At one time, I hear he is Navajo. At another time, Apache.

He tells me the government quit paying him his veteran benefits. Later, he tells me he had the VA send all his benefits to his three children on the res.

He tells me he is waiting for his brother to come pick him up. When I ask, “Here?” he tells me nobody knows where he is, everybody thinks he’s back on the res.

At this point, the woman becomes agitated and wants to know why I’m asking all these questions. Am I with the government?

I explain I just want to hear his story.

His story then becomes he is a forgotten veteran. He went over to Afghanistan and killed a lot of people, and now that he’s back home and not killing, he’s of no use to them anymore. He’s already told me he was in from ’85 to ’89; we didn’t go into Afghanistan until 2001. That we know of, anyway.

The woman chimes in they’ve even cut off their food stamps.

He tells me he used to love America -- he thumps his heart with the palm of his right hand -- but he feels differently now. No one cares about veterans, he tells me.

The anger is quiet but unmistakable. It’s in his voice and his eyes.

After a long pause, he asks me if I have any spare change.

I admire the timing.

I do not and tell him so. I’m thinking if he tells me they are hungry, I will offer to take them back across the street to the Burger King and use my credit card to buy them something to eat. But he does not.

Instead, he holds my eyes for a second, then says quietly, “You tell a good story, too.”

A bus pulls up.

“Your bus is here.”

It’s the Red Line.

“Not my bus,” I tell him. I wish it were.

But he has already turned around and headed back to the bench where the woman is seated. She’s moved from the end of the bench to the middle, and I see what I would have taken for a spilled soft drink pooled under and out front of the place where she’d been sitting with her jeans half-down.

The Red Line pulls out, and the 157 pulls in right behind it. I feel like telling the driver he got here just in the nick of time. But I keep it to myself. It isn’t until we’ve gotten to Coronado Mall that I hear Johnny Cash singing “The Ballad of Ira Hayes.”


Blogger Top-of-the-Arch said...

Hello Busboy, You sure tell good story!
My husband says the reason I love country music because I am from the South, south Viet Nam that is. I laugh each time I listen to Cash’s “One Piece at a Time”; or feel the vulnerability of humanity in “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and “Man in Black”. I had to listen a few times to really understand the lyrics in “The Ballard of Ira Hayes”. Not because English is my 3rd language but to really feel the pains in Ira’s wounded body and soul. Regards,

9:13 PM  
Blogger Busboy said...

Thanks, TOTA. Johnny Cash is a fine storyteller, too. But “The Ballad of Ira Hayes” was written by a folksinger named Peter La Farge. It was Cash’s recording that brought it to prominence. La Farge spent some of his growing up years here in New Mexico and was said to have shared a serious interest in the Native American culture. Perhaps that explains his resonance with Ira Hayes.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Top-of-the-Arch said...

Thanks Busboy for the additional information. I also noticed that I misspelled the word "ballad"!
STL got its 1st snow fall today. Ready or not, winter has arrived!

4:05 PM  

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