Chapter 11 In Case of Riot – Break Glass

Finally, she said, “I’ve read about veterans who couldn’t reintegrate after the war. That was you wasn’t it”
I hesitated, took a bigger sip to fill the time and said,
“For most of a decade it was. Maybe longer than that. American culture didn’t make it easy. I went to enroll at the University of Washington and noticed on the paperwork they gave me that their policy was to not discriminate against all the usual minorities and then added, ‘or participation in the Viet Nam war.’ I interviewed for a room in a group house and eventually the war came up and one of the prospective housemates asked how I justified participating in the war. I said that if it matters then this isn’t a good place for me and left. So I began to realize that there really was discrimination against veterans and it wasn’t necessarily that there was something wrong with me personally; though I’m still not sure about that.”

“Now maybe you understand what I and every other minority in this country go through.”
“You’ve experienced discrimination?! But you own a shipping company and drive a Mercedes!”
“No one knows that when I walk into a restaurant or at the cosmetics counter. They see a vaguely Asian woman who looks like their grandmother’s home health aid putting on airs on her day off.”
“The Maître d’ at the Oyster Shack seated you without hesitation I noticed.”
“You were watching?”
“Of course. I always watch the door. Particularly when a good looking woman walks in. Old habits die hard. That one I learned from DB in Saigon.”
“To watch the door or good looking women?”
“To your comment about the Maître d’: I make a point of dressing expensively. I can afford it. Classic styles. Seems to work. You were about to tell me something about applying to the university.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, my veteran’s education stipend had timed out out the year before so I couldn’t afford it anyway. They gave us ten years but the stipend wasn’t enough so I had to work in between school sessions. You know, a year here and a year there.”
“You got no family help?”
“Not to speak of. My father said I was too old for him to be supporting. That wasn’t why but I’m not sure what was.
“So I bought cars that needed repairs and flipped them. Then by the time I’d saved a few thousand dollars, veterans’ exemptions for various things had expired and they wouldn’t admit me because I didn’t have a foreign language.”
“But you did have a foreign language. The French I helped you with. I know you could read French when you left Saigon and have conversations with me and my family.”
“That didn’t count because it wasn’t on a transcript anywhere. Eventually, I took an accelerated summer language course in French at community college. The University gave me provisional acceptance if I completed the course.
“Ya know, I don’t really want to relive all those university frustrations anyway. It’s just endless. I eventually graduated. So let’s talk about something else.”
“And you fooled your present employer into thinking you were professional material.”
“Well, you know, I’m not a complete Philistine. The summer before I got this job, my girlfriend and I took a trip to Europe. She was an art history major. For me, It was the Grand Tour after I graduated college.”
“You’re still with her?”
“No, that ended a year or so ago. I somehow alienated her and she left me for an electrician.”
“What did you do? Give a recitation on the great painters of Europe?”
“Not funny.

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