Daniel still prays to his God three times every day. – The Book of Daniel
“Like this, Uncle J?”
Hope was standing on a footstool so that she could reach the stove, holding a sharp knife in her hand. It had been four months since my mom had passed.
“Just like that,” I said.
She paused and asked innocently, “Do giant sloths really shit the pit out?”
I made a mental note to say “poop the pit out” next time.
We were making avocado toast with a Fallbrook avocado and a loaf of Bread and Cie from the farmer’s market that morning, and I had told her that giant sloths used to live in Balboa Park, a long time ago. It must have stuck in her mind, and I put my right hand over my heart and held up my left hand, the one with the scars, and repeated that yes, they had, indeed, been so big that they could eat an entire bunch of big avocados, and that they swallowed them whole and shit out the pits and that’s how we got more avocado trees.
I told her that we could go for a walk to the natural history museum after breakfast, and that they had giant sloth skeletons there and she could see for herself. She said that sounded fun, and I told her that they also have skeletons of mammoths and saber tooth tigers and sharks and whales; and that underneath the humongous whale flippers, their bones looked just like our hands! But, I said, their forearm bones weren’t humorous, like ours, and I thought that was funny.
She didn’t laugh, either.
I told her that Fallbrook said it was the avocado capital of the world, because of Sloth poop, and she laughed that time.
“Let’s focus on using your knife safely,” I said to us both. “You don’t want to cut your self.”
Each year, dozens of people in San Diego cut themselves making avocado toast. They end up in our emergency rooms, sometimes embarrassed. An avocado fits perfectly in the palm of your cupped hand, and it’s tempting to cup it there and push the knife instead of slicing on a cutting board; and, of course, everyone in San Diego knows how fun it is to whack the golfball-to-peach sized pit with your knife blade and pop it out of the half in your hand. But, of course, if you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss and cut yourself. From what I had seen, but without statistical evidence, the majority of avocado injuries in San Diego emergency rooms are inflicted upon middle aged men talking while making guacamole before an LSU football game.
But not that day. I had woken up feeling unsocial. My mom had been on my mind all week, probably because her birthday had just passed, and, coincidentally, Uncle Bob had died around her birthday thirty years ago. I had been thinking of both of them, and had probably had them on my mind as I slept. I was sad, tired, and distracted by random thoughts. I decided to go for a walk and not talk about anything, and to do what I used to enjoy doing and relax. I had a 2:20 play date with Hope, and though I could act and smile and no one would notice, not even Hope, I didn’t want to set that example; if I wanted her to take care of herself, then I should lead by example and do what I needed to do to be present with her.
I left our condo and walked up 6th Avenue towards the Hillcrest Sunday farmers market with two empty bags and a small backpack, and about four hours with nowhere else to be and nothing else to do except relax and enjoy the beautiful, sunny San Diego day. It was autumn, and a mild Santa Anna wind was on its last few days, and the air was warm and dry and only a few puffs of clouds were visible in the bright blue sky.
There’s no denying it when you approach Hillcrest. It’s one of the world’s most expensive zip codes, yet remarkably diverse, socioeconomically and ethnically and everything, and one of the most densely packed of San Diego’s neighborhoods. It’s walking friendly streets are packed with shops, restaurants, thrift stores, six grocery stores and what’s advertised as the world’s largest and most phallic LGBT flag pole and it’s perpetually flying giant rainbow flag. It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, and it was exactly what I wanted that day; freedom from small talk and phatic questions common in a small neighborhood. I didn’t want to lie, and I didn’t want tell anyone how I was feeling.
I had been thinking about Cranky Ken and the Irishman a lot the previous few weeks; and, of course, my mother and her story. It had taken me to a bad place, perhaps, and I was reliving memories I hand’t thought about in decades. It didn’t help that I had a library full of books about the past. I had reread Hoffa on Hoffa; or, at least I had re-skimmed it and re-read Chapter 10, Chatanooga Choo Choo, where Hoffa says Bobby Kennedy ‘railroaded’ him in the Chatanooga, Tennesee trial where Big Daddy testified against him. I never met Hoffa – he disappeared when I was four, and I’m pretty sure being four is a decent alibi, which may be why the FBI stopped asking me about it years ago – but I think I’d like him. He made a lot of jokes in his book.
But then came the killing shot that was to nail me to the cross.
Edward Grady Partin.
And Life magazine once again was Robert Kenedy’s tool. He figured that, at long last, he was going to dust my ass and he wanted to set the public up to see what a great man he was in getting Hoffa.
Life quoted Walter Sheridan, head of the Get-Hoffa Squad, that Partin was virtually the all-American boy even though he had been in jail “because of a minor domestic problem.”Jimmy Hoffa
The “minor domestic problem” Hoffa mentioned was two-fold: kidnapping the small children of fellow Teamster Sydney Simpson, and manslaugher in Mississippi. He was in a Baton Rouge jail, where the kidnapping had occurred, and the manslaughter charges from Mississippi coincidentally reach him in jail. He was facing at least a dozen years in federal prison, but Bobby Kennedy reached down into Baton Rouge and had him released and ensured his criminal records began disapppearing bit by bit, like a magician’s handkerchief being tucked piece by piece into a closed fist.
I tried to stop ruminating about the past, and I strolled through the market and perused for the sake of perusing and eventually picked up two big bags of fresh fruit and veggies, a dozen eggs from a Fallbrook farmer, and a bag of tortillas from The Tortilla Lady, and I was walking back home with two bags in each hand when I saw an old man in a wheelchair by the busy 7-11 and an empty bus stop only a few blocks from the bustling market.
The old man looked harmless in his wheelchair, but I still approached cautiously. He was old and feeble and immobilized, but he could still be contagious. Communicable diseases can be via touch or breathing distance; or, in very dangerous cases, airborne.
San Diego had just made national headlines because of a hepatitis break downtown, and by “downtown”, most newspapers didn’t know that meant the two mile uphill stretch between downtown and Hilllcrest. For a while, our hospitals were overwhelmed and no one knew what to do, mostly ignored as someone else’s problem and being overshadowed by the soon to be Covid pandemic. The root cause was the same, communicable diseases, and I had enough knowledge and experience to know that a person who seems safe and is asymptomatic could still give you hepatitis, tuberculosis, the flu or a cold or RSV – and now Covid. Breath blood and spittle have always been a threat to me, and I approached cautiously.
He twitched slightly with muscle convulsions that shook the super-sized drink in his hand and spilled sticky bright red fluid onto his pants. I think he must have been wearing them for a few days at least. Two 99-cent hot dogs rested on one of his legs, still whole and in the bright white and red carboard boxes that said 99 cent hotdogs, as if someone had bought them for him and rested them on his leg. His wheelchair had a metal stamp that said, “Property of the San Diego V.” That hospital was north along the Highway 163 that bisects Hillcrest and then north on Interstate 5 for a few miles, but they have a direct bus linked to Hillcrest, and I imagined that he may have been waiting for the direct bus between Hillcrest and the VA Hospital, maybe to return their wheelchair that was also stamped “Please return to the San Diego VA.”Perhaps he was an old vet, simply following orders out of habit.
But then I noticed that his right wrist had a bright, clean admissions bracelet from Scrips Mercy hospital, the Hillcrest charity hospital only six clicks away and along flat sidewalks, and I assumed he had been a 5150, the California police code for a potentially mentally ill patient. Coincidentally, 5150 was the street address of a California recording studio that Van Halen used for their first album with Sammy Hagar, entitled “5150.”
A 5150 code is unique to California; it uses taxpayer money to pay for up to 72 hours of emergency room care for a potentially mentally ill patient who may be a threat to themselves or others. All American hospitals must treat all emergencies, but most emergency rooms aren’t prepared to handle 5150’s, especially ones that could disrupt the ER during a multi car accident or explosion or disease outbreak. California voters had pushed for some what to address the many facets unique to our disproportionately large homeless population, drawn to dreams and unincentivised to leave the mild climate, or without somewhere else to go. One solution had been the 5150, and for up to 72 hours of free healthcare in any emergency room in California for a potentially mentally ill patient who could be a threat to themselves or society.
Scrips Mercy was a charity in the northern neighborhood bordering Balboa Park, and 24 hours a day police and ambulances and paramedics bring homeless people from all over San Diego County there because there are few alternatives for the poor or homeless, even in America’s Finest City. The hospital is stocked with some of the best healthcare medical devices on Earth, partially because of its proximity to highly profitable and publicly traded medical device company headquarters. But even in the best of times, they are overwhelmed by the immense need in a county of 4 million people and a city of 1.2 million, and they often can’t wash a patient’s clothes or take time to address the root cause of illness; they are an emergency room, and must release people who aren’t in urgent, life-threatening need, and that’s fair. They must remove the arrow and stop the bleeding, and are not empowered to stop the archers, and they do their duty better than I can imagine doing myself.
They offer 5150 patients their clothes back, and retrieve their disposable gowns and escort them to the front door. Many have no where to go, and they stay for a while and become our neighbor. Some return to Scripps as quickly as they can, happy for a safe place to sleep and a meal or two and someone to talk to for a change. The cost approaches $75,000 per day for a 5150, and I wondered if it would be cheaper to hire people to care for old men in wheelchairs; I wouldn’t do it voluntarily now, but I would have accepted a job taking care of people when I was younger, especially for disabled veterans. They seem to have interesting stories, and few people who listen or can relate.
Our homeless population has had 4x more veterans than other cities since at least WWII, when San Diego became a major naval station in the Pacific theater, and then became the outprocessing station for all branches of military returning from Vietnam. Most had been drafted, unable to attend college or flee to Canada, and returned home via San Diego with no where else to go, and the pleasant weather all year makes San Diego a fine place to be homeless for a while.
I said hello from six feet away – the distance everyone would learn about only a few months later, but was always wise – and I stood still until he looked up and made eye contact. I hadn’t wanted to startle him; I didn’t know his mental state.
I asked if he’d like to be pushed into under the shade of the bus stop.
He nodded “no” strongly enough to be noticed over his twitching body.
I offered him water, and he nodded no just as loudly.
I said my name was Jason, and I asked if he needed anything.
He said no in a voice that was muffled by lips that flapped in and out of his mouth. His breathing was forced and was punctuated by gasps of breath common among COPD patients, an acquired disease from things harsh to our lungs, like smoking; or Hillcrest warehouse asbestos, Kentucky coal mines, or Vietnam Agent Orange, Desert Storm dust and debris, etc. I rarely see COPD in someone without an interesting history.
He looked about the age to have been in Vietnam. I couldn’t tell how tall he was because he was seated, but about 5’6.” He was thin and his flesh seemed weak, but his arms retained hints of former physical labor or exercise, perhaps from pushing his wheelchair, though he appeared to struggle with it that Sunday. In my periphery, I watched the diverse people shuffle by the bus stop and 7-11, and none seemed to notice him struggling, but I don’t think I was imagining it.
He was almost bald, and his forehead was bright red from the San Diego sunshine. His neck veins bulged with the extra force necessary to circulate enough oxygen to stay alive, and most of his front teeth where missing, which would explain why he mumbled and why the hotdogs hadn’t been touched. The corners of his mouth were dotted with pinpoint open sores that I did not recognize an hoped for the best. He had one eye open, and it was a lighter blue than the cloudless skies above us. His other eye was squinted shut, and I assumed it was hollow. His face was red and wrinkled with deep lines, as if from many cycles of burning and healing over a lifetime. I assumed he had been sitting by the busstop most of the day.
I leaned in closer and asked his name and rested my left hand on his wheelchair, by his head where I could see my watch. His pulse was beating through his neck veins, and he was breathing through his mouth and his flapping lips were easy to see with each breath. Upon closer inspection, I still didn’t recognize the pinpoint sores. They were not herpes, and they were similar to razor burn, but he obviously hadn’t shaved in several days and they were slightly inflamed and not sunburnt, as if a recent outbreak of something that may have been triggered by UV light. He had an adam’s apple, which is always a wise thing for some types tourists to notice in Hillcrest (it used to be known as a prostitution layover catering to the sailors in town for autonomous R&R before going back to war, and before then it was a secret enclave for transgender people). Otherwise, nothing was remarkable about him.
I repeated that I was Jason and asked his name, calling him “sir” to be polite. He waved his hand as if to dismiss the idea of a name and said “Daniel or Dan or Danny; it doesn’t matter!” His hand fell back to his lap beside the other one and he clasped his super-sized drink.
He could breathe through his nose, and his breath rate and pulse were high but not dangerously so. He likely had mild COPD, Chronic Obstructive Pulmanary Disease, common among smokers and coal workers and veterans who had been exposed to chemicals. I kept my hand on the top of his wheelchair so I could see the time in my periphery. I was expected home, but I was lucky to have time to spare and that I knew that. I focused on Danny, and felt remarkably relaxed. This, to me, was more real than any quick phatic question from people on my normal walk home.
I asked Danny if he’d like my hat to protect his head, and his eye perked up and his lips formed what I assumed was a smile and he mumbled yes! I took off my LSU baseball cap and handed it to him; it had been one of my older ones, faded and practically colorless, but still with a quirky purple and gold quirky old school Tiger that made me smile. I smiled, and he smiled back.
He stuck his drink between his legs and took my hat and moved his hands so deftly that I was shocked; it was as if he had instantly transformed from a feeble old man into a spry magician doing a magic trick with a hat. I smiled even more brightly as I imagined him pulling a rabbit out of his hat, and using Bullwinkle’s voice. He seemed delighted, and he quickly bent the bill into a smooth curve and tucked the top in closer to the front. Satisfied, he slid the hat on his balding head in a quick motion and lowered the bent bill over his eyes and peered up at me with a broad smile. He looked sharp.
He was breathing through his nose by then, calm and happy it seemed. And I could understand him better.
He said that in the army they used to fold his cap in a duck bill, like the special forces, and I assumed he had been a veteran from the Vietnam Ware era, when President Kennedy tried to use a few Special Forces teams instead of expanding the draft. He was about the right age, and that would have explained the hint of musculature lingering in his arms. I looked at his smiling face and realized that with his LSU cap pulled low and folded like a duck bill he looked like me, or what I’d probably look like in 10 to 20 more years. Of course, he was older and smaller and more frail. I’m about 6 feet tall and 205 pounds, somewhat fit though obviously enjoying a few tacos or Po’Boys now and then, but we still bore a remarkable physical resemblance, perhaps because of the hat, especially with old and faded Tiger patch that resembled the Viet Cong Tigers.
And his look, his countenance and his gaze, even if only through one eye. There’s a unique look in the eye of someone who feels unthreatened. Danny had it. I had seen it ever since I was a kid; it was a combination of my grandfather’s charming yet threatening bright blue eyes and my dad’s intense and unthreatened dark brown eyes, like mine. I had never seen the combination of them before, and I was fascinated by Danny’s gaze.
I didn’t have time to think much more about it, because he stopped smiling and leaned towards me and began telling me stories quickly and without pausing. I could barely understand him, and I leaned in and tried to be mindful of the spittle that flew from his flapping lips as he told stories quickly and without pausing, especially because of his open sores. This was before Covid, but I knew enough to be cautious. I tried to balance caution with leaning in. I didn’t want to offend him, but I was interested in hearing what he had to say and couldn’t understand his mumbling from that far up. I knelt, and tried to stay alert and avoid his breath and spittle.
“Tell them about a veteran who takes experimental medicines and falls asleep in the Los Angeles Veterans Hospital.” He opened his eye wide and pointed a finger up at me and said parts of a funny story about falling asleep in a VA hospital, like how people wouldn’t even notice, but I didn’t understand all the words and he didn’t pause before changing stories. It was as if his words were bouncing as randomly as his thoughts, and it was difficult to follow what he was saying.
“Tell them about a good friend who’s annoying, rubs dog shit under your care door handle!” He mimicked rubbing dog shit under a car door handle, and his face lit up in a joy that I didn’t understand, and he continued.
He spoke of aliens that know what we’re feeling. “From exactly,” he said, emphasizing his words by lurching his finger at my face with every syllable, “14,” point, “miles,” point, “away.”
He pointed the final time and held it steady for a few moments to… make his point, I thought to myself, and I smiled.
He leaned back into his wheelchair and smiled back up at me, then he quickly leaned forward again and continued talking ceaselessly and continuously laughed at other people’s naiveté.
“How would you explain a duck to an alien?” he asked, smirking slyly, and allowing me time to ponder. I had no idea, because I wouldn’t know how they communicated or what they already knew of Earth, and I was pleasantly amused by the brief moment that Danny allowed me to consider what he was saying.
Suddenly, his face animated and he shouted, “ Quack! Quack!” and he laughed loudly and with his entire body, closing his eye so that crow’s feet bunched around both of them in what seemed like genuine joy, and spewing spittle from his flapping lips and slapping his hands on his food and beverage stained pants.
I felt awkward at the attention, and I glanced around at the people walking past the busstop and stopped in their cars at the red light in front of us, and saw that noticed that no one seemed to notice us, even with Danny quacking loudly between fits of laughter. It was as if we were surrounded by an invisible field of someone else’s problem. I felt a twinge of anger and cynicism; Hillcrest is America’s second largest, self defined gay community, with a huge brightly colored rainbow flag celebrating LGBT and a host of other acronyms demanding equality, yet no one stopped because, apparently I felt, not everyone who asks for recognition gives it. Hypocrites, I said to myself, then caught my negativity and refocused on Danny. He stopped laughing and resumed talking, unconcerned about the people passing us or ignoring us. He was probably used to it.
“Ha! They think a compass helps them get where they’re going,” he said with a smirk, as if he knew where he was going. I was unsure if he meant his army field navigation days, or the people staring into their phones as they walked by or waited for the traffic light to change.
“Magnetic fields aren’t important!” He said as he waved his hand backwards, towards north of Hillcrest and the hospital, and dismissed the magnetic field by saying, “It changes every 45,000 years, anyway.” He swirled a hand around his head a few times to emphasize the magnetic poles flipping. He was probably right: constant streams of volcanic lava cooling on the ocean floor are polarized by the magnetic field, and we can measure the rate of oozing and the field and assume that Earth’s magnetic field flops every 45,000 years or so. I was so distracted thinking about flip flopping magnetic fields and what that would do to us that I missed what he said next, though I know it was something about focusing on what’s real, or what’s important.
He spoke of so many things that I didn’t understand that I can’t recall them all, like tales of a giant plant with a single tap root that circled 2/3 of Earth. “What happens when they cut it?” he asked, continuing without a pause. He spoke of a one legged table and people trying to eat from it, and asked what happens when they cut the leg. I imagined people standing around a one legged table, eating and drinking mindfully, so that everyone could take turns as long as they remained balanced. He spoke enthusiastically and incessantly, perhaps happy to have someone listening for a change, even though my mind was still surprised about the coincidence of his name and his comment about an IRA and the images I formed from stories I did hear.
I listened without interrupting for 20 or 30 minutes. People passed by us without seeming to notice, carrying bags of groceries from the farmers market or walking in and out of the convenience store. Cars stopped at the traffic light in front of Danny’s bus stop and drivers checked their phones or adjusted their stereos without paying attention to us. I began to feel uncomfortable, both physically from kneeling and, for a reason I didn’t understand, slightly embarassed, as if I were watching people with more health and resources and judging myself for not being them. I’m human, and most humans seem concerned about what others think; but Danny seemed unworried, like he had been unworried if his name were Dan or Daniel or Danny, or whether or not I was listening.
I had been with Danny for almost 35 minutes and my knees were sore and my neck ached from leaning in and I remembered my bags of groceries to carry home before the fruit spoiled in the sunshine. “Danny… Danny… Danny…” I repeated until he paused and looked up at me, then I stood up.
“I have to go now,” I said, and his eye lit up and he apologized and said he was an old man who liked to talk too much and he asked me to sit and tell him about myself. I said sure, and squatted, because sitting hurts my lower back, and I ostensibly listened for another ten or fifteen minutes, unable to understand most of what he said and worried about being late, and finally I pushed up on my knees and stood and interrupted him again and apologized and said I had to go.
Danny stopped shaking and glared up at me, and then he opened the eye that had been squinted shut all that time, and he stared at me with two sky blue eyes, alert and focused. He was smiling subtly, and calmly breathing through his nose.
Later that evening, when I would sit with Cristi on our Balcony and tell her about Danny, I would say that I almost shit a brick when he opened both eyes. I knew I’d be late getting home, but I collected my bricks and kneeled beside his wheelchair again, and I stayed and leaned in and concentrated on listening to what he had to say.
“How would you explain Love to God?” he said, speaking clearly and with a calm, concentrated countenance, much different than when he had asked about describing a duck to an alien. But he didn’t give me time to ponder, and he said, “How could he explain it to you?”
He paused and I stared, mesmerized by a feeling I did not understand. He pointed a finger at my face, remarkably no longer shaking, and said, “Point to the sky,” and then he pointed to the sky and so did I. “Now touch your belly button,” and we both did.
“When they cut the chord, what did they sever?”
I felt more than thought about my mom, and how I had missed so much of love in life until her passing. My breathing became shallow and my lip quivered.
He pointed back at the sky and said, “How do you know if it’s wind that moves the clouds?”
I mistakenly thought he said, “if it’s Wendy that moves the clouds,” and I felt sadness and quickly became lost in thought about that night in Baton Rouge, and I missed my mother. I smiled and didn’t say anything for a moment, and then I looked back down at Danny and waited for him to begin speaking again. For the first time that afternoon, he had been silent until I was ready to listen again.
He started telling stories again and kept both eyes open, but he was shaking and mumbling like before and I didn’t understand everything he said. He spoke and I listened for another 20 minutes or so about things I didn’t understand or can’t recall. When I stood to leave again I asked, again, if he’d like to be pushed into the shade. He said yes this time, and I pushed his chair under the covered bus stop in front of the convenience store with people walking to and from the nearby farmer’s market. I threw away his fly covered hot dogs and asked if he’d like some strawberries from the farmer’s market. They’re fresh, I said, and delicious. His eyes lit up and he smiled and mumbled yes, and I rested a pint of strawberries on his lap. He popped one in his mouth as deftly as he had put on my LSU hat and slid the juicy berry to the back of his mouth, where he still had a few teeth, and munched happily and thanked me through red strawberry stained gums and lips that flapped like a loose sail in the wind. I said I was writing a book and asked if I could tell his stories, and he mumbled yes and waved his hand backwards, as if brushing away my worries about quoting him. I collected my four bags of groceries, wished Danny well, and began walking home.
I was too sore to put into words, just like every time I sit or kneel too long, like on a long airplane trip to Baton Rouge, and my mind was racing from everything Danny had said, and my knees and hip and back and neck were shrieking in pain, shouting at my mind, demanding its attention. Sometimes it’s difficult to not listen to the screaming, and I become attached to the pain and my mind won’t defocus from it. It sucks.
I hadn’t taken pain medications in over a year after having struggled with craving VA prescribed opioids for a few years – I was one of the millions of people caught in the hyper touted opioid crisis that had been in the news – and that’s another reason I hadn’t listened to my mom as closely as I could have the previous few years, and one of my regrets that I was hoping to forgive, and all of that had been on my mind before I met Danny.
I rarely discuss this, but the VA Healthcare System ranks me as a 75% disabled veteran due to a wide range of injuries to my spine and bones and joints, which isn’t uncommon after seven years of service and many parachute jumps and more battles than I care to recall; though, truthfully, the landings were always worse than the jumping, and because I’m here to write this the battles obviously turned out better for me than for others. And it turned out that when we blew up the Khamisiyah airport, under orders, we unknowingly unleashed the only chemical weapons in the Gulf wars, sending the nerve agent sarin into the sky in the biggest mushroom cloud I have ever seen, like a nuclear explosion you’d see on televison or the internet or in a nightmare.
The explosion was deafening, and the shock waves shook the ground for miles. My platoon was the closest, forming a perimeter to keep others away and safe. By 2019, the VA had concluded that anyone within 100 miles was affected with a range of physical and psychological symptoms called Desert Storm Syndrome, now estimated to affect around 60,000 soldiers. We’re unsure to what extent the explosion caused the syndrome. I don’t have an opinion, but I read that, statistically, based on double blinded randomized clinical trials that compare thousands of different patient groups and control groups using blinded and therefore unbiased observers, Desert Storm Syndrome linked to a combination to a protein found in 40% of the population and soldiers who took a Pyridostigmine Bromide, like I had.
The pills were given randomly, and difficult to trace who followed orders and took them vs those who didn’t, but I was young and naive and threatened by Saddams chemical stockpiles and SCUD missiles, and I took mine per the directions for the first few weeks of the war. I was first asked if I had symptoms at age 20, a year before I could legally buy a beer, because alcohol can be dangerous and the government said they wanted to protect us. Thirty years and many beers later later, and after many DBRC trials had been conducted by independent universities and hospitals looking at larger and more diverse populations and began investing in and using advanced bio device technology, like PCR anaylysis of minute proteins and antibodies lingering in our bodies; the VA concluded that 60,000 people are affected. I had been one of those researchers after graduate school in medicine and engineering; and a part in the study, interestingly. From what I learned, I may have been the only one who had experienced rather than read about Khamisiyah, and put in extra hours and looked extra closely for patters, for the sake of old friends no longer with us.
The office handling the case is still called VA’s Office of Agent Orange, a redundant department of redundancy, left over from the 1970’s and built upon the office that had and still is investigating the effects of American warplanes dropping Agent Orange on Vietnam and affecting Americans; I don’t know what we do about the Vietnamese people affected and still living there. I heard that that office had handled the consequences of experimental nuclear tests after WWII, though few of those soldiers are still alive. I had met one once, and many Agent Orange sufferers, because I often sat beside them in the San Diego VA hospital and listened to their stories. I’ve never seen one fall asleep, no matter how long the wait has been to see a doctor, and many seem to enjoy the rare opportunity to talk with someone, anyone, about anything.
I’m lucky, because the hospital is only a few miles downhill from the Hillcrest farmer’s market, and I can still drive and have time to spare. For my disabilities, which are barely noticeable by most people, for whatever reason, grant me free healthcare and a lifetime of records, and I’ve been able to track my own health since I was 16 and first walked into a recruitment office. I receive free treatments, and a check for $680 each month, more than my college fund had been! And the half off at national parks is a perk, too. Not all vets are as lucky, nor or all old men in wheelchairs vets; I don’t know what matters most, but I know that, by definition, we’re all Americans in America at that moment in time.
I walked home, happy to see the park across the street from our place being used by a few families, high as a kite can be, and looking forward to making lunch with Hope and Cristi. But, I wouldn’t be able to get Danny out of my mind, or the feeling that he said too many things that were coincidentally related to the book I had been wanting to write. Life’s funny that way, I thought. Perhaps believing is seeing, and I had imagined the whole thing.
One of the funniest stories to come out of me, with people I trust, is how I’m surprised at how long it took me to consider the irony of for many people in my family believing, for generations, that we were schizophrenic; because the FBI told us so at Big Daddy’s Funeral. Isn’t it ironic? Is it?
Sometimes, weird shit just happens, and the world is full of coincidences most of us are too busy to notice.