Dragging the Dog to the Vet
Just after sunrise on Friday we loaded our asses into Jungle Jim's '78 VW Bus and pointed her North towards Daytona Beach and the local Veteran's Administration. Jim is an old hand up there; he has long been going in for treatment of his body and soul. Me, I usually only see a doctor after a few moments of wild excitement and an ambulance ride.
But recent episodes around the Park and some lack of physical aptitude on my part caused Jim to come around to my trailer recently armed with a six-pack of Bud and god knows what else. He was a point man on a mission: get the Fix-it Man to a place that understands the aging process in guys who have a powerful aversion to admitting weakness and who may have a few tunes playing in their heads that never made it to the Top Forty.
I Am Stubborn
I drank his beer and nodded solemnly in agreement to everything he was saying but I wasn't going. That shortness of breath is just my recent weight gain and the fact that after only fifty miles on my bike I need a recovery day of 48 hours was lack of training. Sitting in my room for hours on end playing computer chess and drinking beer while honing the Ka-Bar to razor sharpness was, was, well; those are my hobbies. No need to get poked, prodded, interrogated and classified by those incompetent hacks at the VA. Who needs 'em.
I Am Crafty
But I agreed to go, then I started figuring out a way to get out of it. I was confident of my ability to dodge the whole thing by going for a predawn bicycle ride and I laid my plans with care. I oiled the chain and topped off the tires. I filled my water bottle and threw a banana and some trail mix into my Goodwill messenger bag. I went to bed feeling a little guilty but proud nonetheless that I was my own man and Independent of the System.
The next morning I quietly opened the trailer door with my Schwinn on my shoulder and gently crept down the stairs.
“You don't plan on riding in the dark without lights, do you?” I didn't drop the bike, but I jumped a little into the air.
“No, man, I was, uh...what are you doing out and about so early?”
“Waiting for you. Go suit up, brother. The first visit is the hard one.”
“Oh, that's right! We're supposed to go to the VA this morning! Damn, I forgot. Let me get changed and I'll be right out.”
Old and Older Discuss Right and Wrong
So as another Memorial Day Weekend began, two old pony-tailed veterans found themselves trundling North in a thirty-four year old hippie van as the morning sun came blasting out of the Atlantic Ocean. The day was clear and made for long rides and sailboats, drinking in the shade, taking the dog for a swim; the day was perfect for everything except a visit to the vet. I mean doctor's office.
“Jim, you realize I wasn't in Vietnam, right? I didn't enlist until the end of the war and I spent the whole time in the Air Force, riding my motorcycle up and down the Pacific Coast smoking pot and chasing girls.”
'Yeah, man, but it just doesn't seem fair. You and your buddies in the Marines were over there getting your asses shot off and I was just goofing off Stateside the whole time. And what about all these young guys coming back from the Middle East? They need help worse than I do.”
“No they don't.”
“If you were still knocking back the bucks and had medical insurance, would you have gone to the Doctor by now?”
'Well, hell yeah.”
“OK. So you know that you need to see a Doctor. When you gave Sam those four years of your life when you were just a kid, you made a deal and he made a deal and now here you are years later at a time when a guy needs a little help. You held up your end of the deal, you kept your promise and now it's time for Sam to keep his.”
I Am A Veteran
The sun was up now and I was looking out the window of the bus. I had my face turned full right, I was Right Face and I was watching the sun and it would be a couple more seconds before I could turn my face back into the van. Familiar scenery was flashing by but I was not seeing it; I was seeing a time long ago and remembering how it felt to be eighteen and me and a couple buddies were picking up our greens from the base tailor. We had them tailored to fit a little better and look a little sharper and we polished our boots while we sat around doing nothing. You do that a lot in the military. But you never know. We were proud to be a part of something, right or wrong, and while this time it wasn't our turn to bleed or die or kill and suffer we had the strength and pride in our hearts to know that called upon, we would go. Willingly and with sharp uniforms and polished boots and nervous smiles, ready to do whatever it took for Our Service, Our Country, and Each Other. Most of all for each other.
“Thanks, Jim. Really. The bus is running sweet.”
“Yeah, brother, I adjusted the valves a couple days ago. And you're welcome.”
For an excellent short piece by my friend Jim: Deep Hunting
Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Old Soldier's Home