April 6, 2013 § 12 Comments
As “Hot Tamale” Craig Reeder and I were there to play for any kids who had come along to the “Stand Down.”
There was music on other stages as well, but the music was just the feel-good part of an effort to give homeless veterans three nights of shelter, medical screening, a few hot meals.
Only one kid wandered into our tent, the rest were adults, which included the man who sat three vacant chairs away from the others.
Instead of the Hokey Pokey we played Hank Williams, Everly Brothers—covers from back in the day.
We took a break when the Shelter Band began to play loud marching music on the other side of the plastic tent wall. Craig went out to watch. The guy in the folding chair stopped me to say, “Thanks for the Jefferson Airplane. You know any John Prine?”
I said, “Sure we do.” And I sat down.
He told his story in bits and pieces. He was from California originally, had found his way to Tallahassee about a month ago. The hardest part was he had his mother in a nursing home in Tennessee so he didn’t see her much. “Course I never told her I’ve been sleeping in the woods.”
Since coming to town he’s been staying at the Haven of Rest. Her nursing home is called Haven as well. “What do you think about that?”
He was ashamed of parts of his life. He didn’t elaborate, just said, he’d done some jail time. He’d also done time as an alcoholic. These days though, he’s getting himself right. “I’ve turned the wheel over to God. I wasn’t doing such a great job of driving on my own.”
I told him about my neighbor, a Vietnam vet with severe PTSD. “Once a soldier, always a soldier.” He shook his head. “If I hear a loud noise I still dive under the couch.” His eyes got the look that comes when what is being seen is in the mind and the gears of time have slipped. “I miss my buddies most. A lot of them are angels in heaven.”
Like my neighbor, Vietnam was his war. It was mine too. I protested it in high school. In college I knocked on doors to enrage people against it. And when the war ended it fell behind me, like learning to drive and algebra class.
Always present, war rides its veterans, Vietnam perhaps most of all. “Nobody welcomed us when we came home,” he said. “Nobody.” The disappointment still seemed to surprise him.
Craig came back in and started taking down speakers. “Wait,” I said. “We have to play this guy John Prine.” Instead of playing through the system, Craig brought the guitar over and we played “Paradise,” standing over the veteran.
“Thank you guys,” he said as he left. “Hey, when are you playing again?”
“Tomorrow, at Springtime Tallahassee. What’s your name?”
“Mickey. I’ll see you guys there.” And he strode out into the cold damp night as if he knew where he was going.