A man asked me for a cigarette as I was on my way to the bus. He was trying to get somewhere and asked me for cash. The only thing I had was tobacco. We talked.
[Saxophones, trumpets and light jazz play in the background, a rush of a bus, honking horns.]
Me: Where do you work?
Him: At Dairy Queen. And I work at this factory in Fridley [Minnesota]. But I just started at Dairy Queen. They hold the first week’s check back so when I get my uh, I’ll get my first check from there, right when I get my pension check next month. And then we’re [his girlfriend] moving into the Starlite Motel for $219 a week.
Me: You were in the, uh, you were in the Army?
Him: Army. The 141st Infantry, 142nd battalion.
Me: Where were you serving?
Me: Where were you serving?
Him: What do you mean what was I serving?
Me: No, where.
Him: Oh I was in Somalia from 2007 to 2009.
Me: What were you doing there?
Me: What were you doing in Somalia?
Him: I was a gunner.
Me: Oh, okay.
Him: Shooting. [A pause.] And then I was in Iraq. I did two tours in Iraq. Then my last tour, January 17th 2010 they hit my Humvee with an IE[D] and we were in a nonstop twenty minute firefight and I was hit seven times, twice with an AK[-47].
Me: Oh my god.
Him: I shouldn’t be here. I’m watching my best friend and them die and I ain’t even from Minnesota.
Me: Yeah. [He starts to talk.] I’m not either.
Him: If I had family here, you know, this wouldn’t be an issue. We wouldn’t be out here. But I’m getting plastic surgery done [A trumpet blasts]. That’s from when they blew up my Humvee. I have a third of my body was burned. (Me: Wow.) From the blast. (My god.) And um, I have been going to VA but they got me out here. They had me from, I went to California—[I hand him another cigarette]—thank you. From California to Connecticut from Connecticut to Virginia, from Virginia to Florida, from Florida to St. Cloud [Minnesota] from St. Cloud to Bloomington. Now they got me at Abbott seeing a doctor named [unintelligible]. He’s like the best plastic surgeon in the world. I guess he does all the transsexuals out here and shit.
Him: And like, he’s one of the best plastic surgeons in the world. They are paying me. And they’ve already invested like eight million dollars in plastic surgery.
Me: Wow. But the government pays for the right?
Him: Well. I paid with my life for it.
Me: Yes, of course. [He starts to talk.] I understand that.
Him: But yeah, the VA…
Me: But in terms of money…
Him: Well see and like everyone is like ‘Oh you got medical?’ Yeah but the thing is I have to go to St. Cloud, Rochester or Bloomington. I—
Me: Well, you got fuckin’ shot at and burned.
Him: No. Shot.
Me: I mean shot, yeah.
[He proceeds to lift up his shorts and show me the scars and burns on his legs.]
Him: There. AK-47. 223, 223, 223. That’s where they cut it out. Pulled it out, the bullet from my calf muscle. They told me I could never walk again, right? Fuckin’ a year later I’m playing full court basketball.
Him: Then I started this. Just started. I-I-I’m a recovering alcoholic I started drinking heavily after I got out of the war. I been sober now for like eleven months. Fuckin’ drank so much one time I blacked out or I had uh flashbacks (Me: Yeah.) and my girl said that I was underneath the counter of the bar like this [He mimics holding a rifle.] like I was in the war. Fucking screaming yelling out codes and shit under the bar. And from that day on I haven’t had a sip. Not a sip of beer, not a shot, not nothin’. Yeah and I’m really glad that I don’t have no money because that’s probably the first place I’d be.
[I tell him I have to catch the 17, the next bus out of downtown.]
Me: Good luck to you.
Him: Thank you thank you.
Me: Dude of course. Take care of yourself.
Him: Thank you so much. You take care too.
[The sound of passing traffic.]