Bartending Stories

The other night, an older man with a bushy grey moustache that curled up at the ends ordered a beer and a slice of pizza and sat down at my bar. Poker was on the TV. We ended up having a long and intense conversation. He didn’t ramble at all, but I’ve removed my remarks to emphasize his.

“Is this the final table? Look at how young they are. My grandfather is the one who taught me poker. He was born in 1906. Taught me how to play poker and said, ‘If you live long enough, you’ll learn how to bluff.’ Heh. When did he die? Oh, 1968. I was in Vietnam. He came home from work, kissed my grandmother, sat down, and died of a cerebral brain hemorrhage not five feet from her. Too young, but not a bad way to go.

In Vietnam? I was a Navy Corpsman. I was there 1968-1969. The absolute worst years. Agent Orange did a number on me. I have diabetes and bad heart problems, four types of cancer they tell me to look out for. The VA treats me pretty well now, but it took a long hard fight to get them to recognize Agent Orange. They didn’t want to admit what happened over there or to pay for it. I still only get 70% coverage because they don’t want to give me a PTSD diagnosis. If I got 100% I might be able to do little things like pay my bills AND my rent.

I was there 68-69. There’s no way NOT to have PTSD. To this day, people still don’t know what went on, and the ones in charge will never admit what happened.

I can’t talk to my buddies about it. That’s not possible. They didn’t come back.

(Takes off glasses, wipes eyes.)

Sorry, it’s hard to talk about. It’s still hard to talk about.

You want to know why it was a nightmare? The politicians. We really felt we had no one backing us. Like we were left for dead. No one should have to feel that way.

Do you read? Are you interested in the truth? The book ‘Rolling Thunder’ is the only book I’ve read that even comes close to capturing what it was like over there. Everything about it. I can’t attest to the sex stuff – we didn’t have officer’s stripes, so we weren’t let into those clubs; we just had to imagine it – but the rest he got just right.

I’m doing better. Thumbs up to the VA for my recent treatment. Every day’s a little better. They tell me not to eat pizza (gestures to his pizza) or drink beer (gestures to his beer), but I can’t undo my sailorization. Probably would tell me not to kiss the lips of a pretty woman, either. You’ve got to get some enjoyment out of this life.”

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