At about 8 o’clock this morning, my wife and I were trying to figure out what to do about cigarettes. We usually make our own, but this morning, there were about a dozen tubes left. That means, of course, that I’m going to have to go to Rite Aid™ later and get a box. Not really a big deal, the store is a few blocks away, and an easy walk, but still a bit of a pain in the ass, because I have work I have to get done today. I’m going to be chained to the computer most of the day. I have deadlines to meet. So what’s our solution? She decided to send me to the corner store to tap the ATM for a couple bucks, grab a transitional pack of smokes in the meantime with a coupon, and withdraw a couple bucks to go get tubes later when I get the chance. It’s a good plan. Hell, I might as well take out a few more so I can begrudgingly go up to the Chop Shop on South Street and get my hair cut. I hate getting my hair cut, but part of being married means giving over aesthetic control to your wife. It’s a pain in the ass, but it has to be done, or there will be a nonsensical argument, and probably some name calling. So, off to the corner store I go.
I tap the ATM, intending to take out 30 bucks, but the damned pain in the ass thing only dispenses twenties. 20 won’t cut it for what I need today, and 40 might earn me a free dirty look from the Mrs. Solution? Take out 40, give 10 to my wife. I’d like her to eat later, too. I go up to the counter with my coupon and some cash, and wait. Why am I waiting? The shopkeeper hasn’t noticed me yet. He’s busy preparing stacks of lotto paperwork. He’s 3 feet away. He still doesn’t see me. I’m the only one in the store. My wife has to go to work. He still hasn’t seen me. I’m getting annoyed. I clear my throat, and he still hasn’t looked at me. I come to this store at least once a day, what the fuck? Come on, dude! He’s still playing with those damn lotto tickets.
As I’m waiting, and bitching in my head, a man walks in. He’s dirty; obviously homeless. His dog tags make less of a clink and more of a muted clunk, because they’re caked with who knows what. I hope he doesn’t come too close. I don’t do too well with people in general, and my experience in this city with the homeless has jaded me, even though I was one once. They aren’t like I was. A lot of them stay on the streets because they want to. They call themselves “train kids.” They go from city to city panhandling enough to get liquored up until they’re bored, and move on to the next city via train (this I know, because I had a conversation with a group of them before they demanded that I move on because, and I quote, they were “working”).
The disheveled veteran (I assume he’s a veteran, because who else in their mid-forties / fifties walks around wearing dog tags) shuffles into the store. The door is propped open, because it’s already a beautiful day. As he ambles in, something halts him. It’s the wire coming from his prosthetic arm. He has one of those old-fashioned steel and plastic harness-type hooks instead of a left arm, and one of the cables caught the edge of the door. Now I feel bad. I’m bitching about stupid, mundane, everyday bullshit, and this guy went and left his left arm somewhere halfway across the world to protect my privilege to do so. I catch myself hanging my head in shame, and no one knows why but me. I watch him turn around. I’m assuming he’s going to unhook himself, for which I’m glad, because watching this pains me. He doesn’t unhook himself.
He doesn’t have a right arm, either.
Not even a hook.
I want to show him some sort of respect, but how?
Somehow, I don’t think a salute is appropriate.
He does a 360, and unhooks himself flawlessly.
He’s done this before.
As I walk by, all I can think to do is smile, tip my hat, and whisper “thank you.”
I can barely get it out.
I will never forget this morning, and I won’t be complaining about too much today.