The Homeless Vet Trap
“I know many of the Viet Nam veterans haven’t fared so well. I’ve seen them on the streets of San Francisco. You’ve clearly escaped that fate. How did you manage that?” asked Agnes.
“Me? Escape? Not really. I’m just now recovering from a very dark period and despite finishing an education of sorts I still haven’t gotten my footing and I’m still not sophisticated like you.
“Oh I disagree. You told me about your family history. You were the perfect gentleman then and one with a lot of responsibility and with a great deal of promise for the future. That’s what made you so attractive. One thing anyway. I don’t know about now.”
“Agnes, here you are in a cabin in an artist colony on the beach. You have pretensions of buying an art gallery. You own a yacht builder, are an heiress to a shipping fortune, and you’re visiting your daughter at an expensive private university. We couldn’t be more different.
“But in my defense I’ll say that I learned as much, just different things than you. I spent half of the seventies living in the woods, at the end of a dead-end road cutting firewood for money. Much of the rest I spent looking at the world through the windshield of a long-haul truck. But you do what you have to do to get by,” I said.
“The dead-end road part sounds like your buddy, DB,” Said Agnes, taking another sip of wine. Mine remained untouched.
“He was quite the Colonel Kurtz character,” she continued. “You saw the movie ‘Apocalypse Now?’ Based on ‘Heart of Darkness?’ Did you read that?”
“I saw the movie but no; no I didn’t read the book.”
“I’d read Heart of Darkness by the time you were in Saigon and wondered about DB then from the way you talked about him. Of course the movie hadn’t been made then. It really seemed like he’d gone native.”
“DB wasn’t trying to be heroic but in a way I think he was, looking out for that family and the neighborhood like he did. I wasn’t at all heroic, then or now. I was just hiding from mainstream American culture. I’d had my fill of that from the first couple of years of university after I got out of the Army. I was just trying to keep my head down and get by.”
“Hiding out by long-haul trucking?”
“Actually, I did it for the money, what there was of it.
“This was a time in Seattle when there was a billboard on a major thoroughfare saying ‘Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights.’ I was on my way downtown to interview for a job as a radio engineer when I saw that sign. My heart sank. I had to reach down and pick it up off the floor of the bus. Boeing had fallen on hard times and laid off tens of thousands, many of them engineers. So there were hardly any jobs. I did pick up an odd job fixing commercial stereo equipment for a sound company but that didn’t last.
“So I went back to trucking. When I was not on the road, I lived with an ex-navy seal, an underwater demolition expert. He let me park my bus on the acreage he rented and since there were no neighbors to complain and the landlord never came around I just stayed. When that trucking job ran out we cut firewood and hunted deer to keep body and soul together. I was on a downward slide, struggling to grab a hold of anything to slow the momentum.”